Inora had been running around, sneaking about, casing-out the long corridors of the Asylum for thirty-minutes, hoping to find a lapse in security. Unfortunately, there was no security and Inora was stuck. There were no security-check posts to sneak past. No nurses to steal a security-clearance from or tail.
She had wasted enough time. Emil and Zara were probably in their meeting with Uncle Man already, she imagined, and she could not bring herself to picture what Emil was talking about. Was he trying to convince him to cancel the AI? Was he trying to negotiate Inora’s freedom? She knew she should have been there with Emil, but it did not look like she could have had a fruitful conversation, or a fruitful choking, with Emil and Zara present. And thus, she had decided to go at it on her own.
But progress had eluded her since she slipped her way past Tarique. The corridors looked the same and she could not be sure where she was. She started leaving a trail using knickknacks from her tote-bag but of course, it occurred to her, she could not be sure that someone was not cleaning up after her. She was loathe to increase the workload of a janitor and decided to stop doing that. Then she stopped and waited for five minutes to see if a janitor showed up behind her. No one did. She was, clearly, on her own path at this point.
The layout of the Asylum was labyrinthine, and she was more than just lost. She did not even know where she wanted to end up once she found her bearings. She just knew that she would know it when she came to it. Once she noticed a dimly-lit narrow corridor almost entirely hidden behind a cabinet, she suspected that she may have finally come to it. She walked into the corridor and it took her fifteen steps to arrive at the other end of the corridor, which was a fortified steel-door with sliding glass-window, that had the face of a haggard, old man looking through it, “You are not meant to be here,” he said through the glass-window, “did you get separated from a tour group?”
“No, I am taking a look around on my own.” Inora replied mechanically, getting closer still to get a clearer look at who she was talking to.
“Did you accidentally teleport into the old waiting-room? Happens every few weeks. Must have given you quite a fright, eh?”
“We use that room as a broom-closet now. Truly unnerving. One of them fell on me once.”
“No, a broom.”
“I guess. Yes.” The Old Man said pensively. “Brooms are definitely better than closets. At least brooms have a fuzzy bottom.”
“Are you a patient here?” Inora asked, “What is your name?”
“People usually call me The Old Man.”
“From the sea?”
“That was a long time ago. I have not been to the sea in a really long time.”
“So just the old man?”
“No, not the old man. The Old Man.”
“You can see what I am saying?”
“I see many things. Too many things. That is why I am in here.”
“In solitary confinement? Are you dangerous?”
“No,” The Old Man said stoically, “but everyone else is.”
“They would tear me apart if they could get their hands on me. Buy me a horse! Buy me a wife! Can you make
my acnes go away? Buy me a carriage for my horse already! Pht! No, I am safe here.”
“How long have you been here?” Inora asked, looking around for a chair but the corridor was empty and if there was a chair somewhere, it was well hidden in the darkness that Inora’s eyes had not adjusted to yet.
“About a minute; give or take. I was back there before that.” he pointed towards his bed that Inora could barely see from the other side of the door.
“No, I meant at the Asylum. How long have you been at the Asylum?”
“Many minutes. Uncountable minutes. Would you care for me to venture an educated guess? I am quite well-educated.”
“No, that is alright. How do you like it here?”
“I do not like it here, young lady…Or…can it be...perhaps…perhaps you are not so young after all. What madness. This is very disconcerting. Who are you? Make your introductions.”
“No one important really.” Inora said, quite liking The Old Man, “You can call me Inora. And I am quite young. I just want to ask you a few questions.”
“Really? Just questions? People usually ask for favors.”
“Just a few questions if that is alright with you, please. It will not take too long. May I?”
“I do not see why not, young and unimportant Inora. But would you not prefer having this conversation without the intrusive glass-window in between us? A more intimate tête-à-tête if you prefer.”
“That would be better. But you are locked in, are you not? What are we to do?” Inora shrugged.
“Locked in? My dear, what would ever give you that idea?”
Inora twisted the handle and the door opened, “This is very surprising. I thought you were locked inside.”
“Curious thoughts, Inora. Whatever gave you that idea?” he asked as he gestured Inora inside his cell.
“Isn’t that how it works? Inmates are supposed to be locked in; at least, they are from where I come from.” Inora said walking inside and scanning the modest cell block which turned out to be an office that also doubled-down as a bedroom, or a bedroom that doubled-down as an office. Either way, it had both a laundry-hamper and a waste-paper basket.
“Perhaps.” The Old Man agreed, “But you are yet to tell me where that is. So many places have so many unique customs. But where are my manners? Please, do sit down.” The Old Man said, pointing towards a chair, “Would you like tea or coffee? And some milk cookies? I am afraid I seem to be running a little low on powder milk though; would cream do? I seem to be running low on tea and coffee too. But no worried. I will work something out with what I have. Fear not. I did not get to where I am today by fearing improvisation.
“And while I prepare our drinks, perhaps you will illuminate me about why exactly you have decided to seek me out. Many have tried to, before you. Few have managed to not get rammed down instead. There, that will do. That will do. I think we are good with food. I have some crab-cakes and a few slices of chocolate-ganache cake. Fancy having that stuff just lying around, eh?”
“You are not a patient here, are you?”
“I already told you. I am The Old Man. And I will listen to you talk.”