Piercing through the darkness was the most annoying sound ever to start someone's day. It awakened the man tucked under the sheets, groaning and cursing at the blinking red light in the dark room. His hand slid across, hitting the button on his alarm clock, the button that brought back favorable silence.
Oxford, the man who always struggled to wake up early, rubbed his face while his mind recalled the tasks given last night before passing out. Staring at the clock, he couldn't count how many times he was ready before the alarm, because he hadn't done it before.
The sheets slid off from him when he sat up with his back arched, he smacked his dry lips as he reached out for his phone from the darkness, next to the nightstand where his alarm clock was. The smartphone in his palm glowed brightly, blinding the man. It was followed by the morning light flooding in as the blinds rolled up, revealing the city of New York waking up from its slumber.
He glanced back at the clock.
Jumping from his bed, he hurried into the bathroom and took a shower, and shaved his beard. He got out in a robe and transferred to his walk-in closet where he put on his typical black suit.
Once he got the black tie tightened, he left his penthouse and called his chauffeur who was already on idle at the front of the building.
The vehicle drove off and smoothly headed to the Grand Central Terminal, beating the morning rush hour.
Oxford was putting on his custom-made wristwatch when the driver spoke to him about his morning. It had become their routine.
Everything in Oxford's life had become a routine.
Ever since he was young, he started working for someone who worked in a facility buried deep underground, beneath the ocean floor.
The facility, told by his predecessor, stored a lot of secrets that could change the entire human civilization, possibly ending it. It had countless advanced technologies years ahead of any made on the surface. But it didn't stop there, together with those revolutionaries, they also stored sacred and priceless relics from the past. Everything every historian was searching for could be found in that very facility.
His predecessor even told Oxford that they made their own nickname, The Keepers.
But to Oxford, he sometimes viewed themselves as the “men in black”, since they wore black suits and worked in a secret organization. So secret that not a single person nor any government from the surface knew about them
Sometimes when a company introduced a "revolutionary" product to the world, The Keepers would just chuckle underground saying things like: “You call that revolutionary?”
Of course, to keep mankind intact, they had no choice but to keep everything in secret. It was their utmost priority. However, they could sell their inventions to other companies or influencers only should they be approached by The Keepers first.
Arriving at the station, instead of doing what other passengers would do, Oxford, after walking down the marble staircase, made a sharp turn to the left where he found a metal door next to a janitor who was sleeping on his job.
He truly wasn’t. He was just pretending. In fact, he was one of the facility’s first lines of defense.
He calmly swung the door inward and let it close by itself as he walked through the narrow hall.
At the end of the hall was an elevator, the facility's second line of defense.
Stepping inside the confined space, he slid out his key card and inserted it into the scanner on the side where buttons would be.
The elevator closed and descended for a few dozen meters.
Under the Grand Central Terminal was another station that had the same name. It had a specific use and only one destination, the facility. The entire place looked similar to an airport, just without the terminals and the airplanes. Instead of airplanes, there were giant high-speed maglev trains parked on each platform. These massive hovering machines hissed and hummed as employees, including Oxford, crossed the jet bridges connected to the cars.
Inside the transport was a luxurious environment. A line of chandeliers hung in the middle from end to end of each car, gold chamfered edges lined across the bezel-less windows, and some necessities during their trip like bars, private compartments, a small library, smoking lounge, and etcetera.
Some said this was their underground version of a fancy cruise ship.
Oxford got himself a private space just in time when the PA announced their departure in a few minutes. The private space contained four spacious leather seats, a table, some shelves, and a giant single window that would show stunning scenery later on.
As usual, before departure, the staff of the transport strolled through each car, asking everyone what they would prefer to have for the rest of the trip, this could range from a massage to getting a few more minutes of sleep. Oxford chose to have his breakfast here, he ordered one of his favorites, pepperoni pizza.
The pizza was delivered to him minutes later, everything was homemade. While he was eating, the locks on each side at the bottom of the engine released, making the train shake to freedom. The moment didn’t disturb everyone on board, the entire thing was designed for uncompromising comfort.
Within half an hour, they were miles away from the station when they approached their first descent.
The giant window next to Oxford changed as soon as they zoomed out of the gloomy tunnel and into a glass tube, showcasing the depths of the Pacific Ocean and the wall of the North American plate. Aquatic animals ranging from tiny to enormous swam alongside the bright train zipping across the ocean floor like an eel.
By the time a glass dome appeared in the far distance, Oxford had finally finished his breakfast.
After some leveled travel, the train made its second and final descent again, but this time a little bit longer, five minutes to be exact according to Oxford. They sped through the glass tube and into another tunnel at the end, finally vanishing. This tunnel acted as a portal to the new and vastly different world.
Exiting the tunnel, they finally arrived at the facility, but not literally. They still had ten more miles to cover before stopping.
The scenery on the window changed.
A bottomless drop stood next to the endless wall of concrete and steel panels where the tunnel protruded. Welding flares rain underneath the patches of building machines scattered all over the wall. The facility was undergoing sideward expansion to accommodate more productivity. They started doing it more than a decade ago.
On the other side of the man-made chasm was an enormous ant colony, the facility. A huge section of it was exposed, displaying its various features, levels, and structures that were specifically designed for their purposes. There were massive cafeterias, resorts, farms, and etcetera. It was a metropolis underground. It had everything that they needed! More than what they asked for!
Oxford could remember how many times he got lost when he was under probation, 17 times!
More people experienced the same thing, hence the management invested heavily in making a digital map for them to navigate around with their phones. And it worked!
Though, seeing this place made Oxford frown. He sighed when he peeled away from the window, finding something else to distract himself.
The train slowed to a stop when they got to one of the facility’s crowded terminals. The architecture of it was the same as the Grand Central Terminal, it was one of their ways to know which terminal led where.
Exiting the train, Oxford breathed in that artificial air mixed with after-work scents of sweat and stress and pain.
He flocked together with the Monday shift employees, fighting against the tide of Sunday shifts. Every direction he looked had the same image of the head management of the facility named Cal.
Unlike 99% of the employees which were human beings, Cal was one of the 1% who was artificially immortal and superior. Robots.
Cal’s images placed throughout the facility reminded everyone who was in charge and their purposes. It was a picture of him standing behind the main podium located in the glass dome. It never changed. Always showing his shimmering gold body with those intimidating square gold eyes as if they were staring back at them. Signifying a clear meaning: You are always being watched.
Ever since putting an end to the rebellion that took place years ago within the facility, the funding for security skyrocketed, resulting in stricter protocols as if they were forced to wear chains around their necks which were held by Cal.
That unfortunate occurrence showed how fragile this place was no matter how much they increased the presence of the guards or upgraded its systems.
People would always find ways.
After countless elevators, escalators, and nearly an hour of walking, at last, he got to his office.
Folders wedged into the glass shelves that occupied either side of the office acted as soundproofing from outside noises. His wide, glass desk, enough for a person with his size to lay flat without any struggle, and his black leather armchair, were the only things that made the atmosphere feel like home.
He groaned as he waddled over to his desk where he saw something new together with the undisturbed gold nameplate facing the door and the oversized, multifunctional blotter in the middle. It was a tablet. The tablet he always carried around when dealing with a test subject.
Dropping himself to his seat, he swiveled and snagged the tablet where he unlocked it with his face, eyes, and fingerprints. The device brought him to a document of his new test subject, for now, named Subject 48.
“What could it be this time around?” uttered Oxford when swiped across the surface, skimming through all valuable details.
His phone started vibrating in his pocket when he was rubbing the bridge of his nose. His eyes were already tired from the blue light. Silently pulling his phone out, he raised a brow when he found the caller to be Chap, one of his colleagues.
Calling this early? he thought.
He put him on speaker.
“You’re late again,” Chap’s heavy British accent echoed.
Chap worked as one of the scientists in the facility. They had been working together for a few years. Oxford could still remember how little Chap was when the management introduced him as their replacement. He had trusted him more than anyone else in the facility.
“You’re early, something wrong?” Oxford responded with his new york accent.
“They want you to deal with him now, obviously.”
“Why do they want me to start this early, is there something exciting?” Oxford glanced at his wristwatch with a passive-aggressive voice while lifting and planting his feet on the edge of the desk.
“Apparently, yes. You should already know why…” Chap sighed, “Of course, if you are reading the documents I left on your desk that is. But with my guess, you didn’t, so I’ll just give you the basics about him as usual,” some papers were shuffling on the other side of the line.
Oxford, on the other hand, was already back on his feet. He brought the tablet with him as he headed to an elevator. Once the door was shut, Oxford spoke up instead of inserting his keycard.
“Bring me to my test subject.”
The elevator had a voice recognition feature built-in, it responded by going down.
Oxford kept his phone in his grasp when Chap returned, clearing his throat like he was going to make a speech. Chap described his colleague’s new test subject.
The test subject was found just days ago in the Marshall Islands. They did some quick basic tests on him, validating that the test subject was a biological male. He had the height of an average late teenager, black hair, and somewhat tanned skin, which they figured was caused by the sun even though they had no idea how long he was there.
Oxford was leaning on the side railings near the door as he listened to his friend. He held the phone like the tv remote when he was watching in boredom. He huffed and rolled his eyes while he stared at himself on the stainless steel walls.
“...he has white irides...” Chap tilted his head on the detail, like everyone else, but it didn’t catch Oxford’s interest.
Chap was nearing the final details of the test subject when Oxford arrived at the place where new test subjects were kept until further notice. Oxford was walking through the empty corridors, passing rows of normal-sized, metal, single doors and large double ones for “security purposes”.
Then it dawned on him. He stopped in the middle of his turn when he interrupted Chap.
“What does he look like, basically?”
There was a short moment of silence.
“He looks like a typical human being.”
Oxford furrowed, finally now looking at the documents. The gears in his mind that were covered in dust, rusts, and cobwebs began to turn again after years.
A human being as a test subject?! he thought.
“You there?” Chap’s concerned tone snapped him out of his thoughts.
“Y-yeah… Listen, you must be joking right?”
“I said the same thing to the management, I’ll let you guess what’s their response,”
Oxford mumbled when he resumed his walk.
Out of all possible things, he ended up with a human being.
What’s so astonishing about that? His white eyes? he said to himself.
He recalled all of the previous test subjects directed to his team. All of which were mysterious objects and other unidentified living organisms. Extraterrestrial life. In his early times, he was very excited to meet his first. But as time went on, he had lost touch with his job.
“...besides, I’m not yet finished. You should really start reading those documents again, Oxford,” said Chap who rubbed his forehead. He knew it would be useless sending him a copy, however, he was wrong for the first time!
“...a-anyways… I’ll get back with you when I’m done with my business…” Chap stuttered when he found someone knocking on his own laboratory’s door.
“...try not to startle him,'' advised Chap before ending the conversation.
Oxford tucked his phone back into his breast pocket when he stood in front of the door where on the other side would be his first human test subject.
Somehow, this one caught his attention.