"We're going to get out of here. Don't you ever doubt that." I was adamant.
"How can you be so sure?" Karli looked at me with those huge blue eyes, the doubt plain in her voice.
Don't get me wrong, she was the greatest little sister on the planet and I wouldn't trade her for any sort of freedom, but it was hard to stay determined when she doubted me. The only thing that kept me trying was that she had never left me. She trusted me enough to stay with me through anything. Little did she know that she was the only reason I was still trying. "You're doubting me again. What did I tell you about that?"
"I'm sorry, Sammi. I trust you." She looked away and started to pull her hair short brown back in a ponytail. She acted like she did this to try and keep herself as tidy as possible while stuck here, but we both knew that she did it to give her hands something to do. It was impossible to do anything to keep yourself clean, organized, or sane here. This place was definitely starting to get to her.
I looked down and studied our surroundings. We were back in our room; trapped in our own personal prison. She was sitting with her chin on her knees at the foot of my rusty, lumpy, disgusting bed. Since we were partners in this terrible nightmare, we shared a room and her identical bed was across the room. The few items we were allowed to have inside this torture chamber were scattered across the room. Our identical jackets were tossed on the floor under her bed. Our “long-fall” boots were on the floor after I threw mine against the wall after another frustrating failed attempt to escape. Those things were impossible to break, which I guess was a good thing since they kept us alive in the game. We were physically incapable of falling and getting injured with those things on. Our portal guns had been gently placed on Karli’s bed. Those were the only things we kept sacred since they were our only way of escape.
I sighed and laid back on my bed. My flat rock of a pillow was hurting more than it was helping so I chucked that at the wall as well and rolled over in irritation. This stupid game was messing with my head. There had to be a way to get out of this. There had to at least be a way to get Karli out of this. I didn’t care anymore if I made it out alive. I used to care. I used to have so much more fight in me. That day when the electronic voice announced my next tests were to be with a partner and the doors slid open and I saw my younger sister standing there smiling with a portal gun in her hands, I felt something inside me die. The only reason I had any willpower left because I was determined to save her. In a way she had kept me alive for the past couple months. Every level got us closer to the edge of the building where we could break free. I was going to get her out of here and defeat those programmers.
“Prepare for immediate testing.” The electronic voice announced over an unseen loudspeaker.
I swore and rolled off the stiff mattress. “Get your boots and your coat, Karli. We’re breaking out of here.”
“You say that everyday.” She rolled her eyes. She had yet to be destroyed by the games the programmers played with us every day. She liked to remind me how different I was now than when I was taken away three years ago, back when I was young and innocent and saw good in the world. Then everything was taken away from me and I was sent here to learn. Well I did learn. Some people are here to destroy you unless you destroy it first.
I slipped on my boots and jumped a few times to fit them into the right position. “One day I’ll be right.” I grabbed my portal gun and jacket before walking over to the doorway and spitting on the floor to get that nasty metallic taste out of my mouth. Just for good measure I kicked the door.
"Please refrain from harming testing equipment," the ominous electronic voice sounded.
"Oh, shut up," I replied with boredom. The programmers knew I ignored them and their ridiculous rules. The doors opened finally and I led Karli down the hall into the elevator. I circled pointlessly in the windowless elevator while she stood still in the center, watching me. I remember the good old days when I wasn’t so edgy and apprehensive and I could focus and relax like her. It’s like the games gave me ADHD or something. I just couldn’t ever sit still anymore, like there was this crazy, obnoxious itch inside that wouldn’t disappear and was slowly making me go insane. I forced myself to stop pacing and lean against the wall. Running a hand through my hair, I took a few deep breaths and struggled to calm down. The elevator rides got longer each time and I hated being in the elevator the most out of being in this stupid place. It was impossible to escape from.
Everywhere else, even our room, had at least one wall that we could shoot portals onto, but not the padded safety walls in this ridiculously crowded elevator. The portal guns could only shoot portals on the grayish white cement walls in the games, and surprisingly a lot of the other hallways and rooms in this giant lab. Each gun had two color portals that were linked to each other. I had blue and purple; Karli had red and yellow. The portals were linked together so I could shoot a purple portal on one wall and a blue portal on another wall across the room and when I’d walk through one, I’d walk out the other. In order to escape using portals, I’d have to be able to shoot a portal to some place I couldn’t walk to, but the programmers had thought things through pretty well and had placed either thick glass in the way or whatever black granite stuff was used on other walls so the ray from the portal gun would just bounce off harmlessly. It was ridiculous how well they thought this stuff through.
Just as I felt myself fighting off the urge to kick something again, the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. We were at the next level of the game. The levels always looked easier than they actually were. This one looked hard. Just great. Luckily they gave us as much time as we wanted on each level, not that it ever took us all that long. Karli and I worked hard and fast. We were brilliant together. Even after being separated for so long, we could still practically read each other’s minds and get everything done without talking. I didn’t like talking inside the games because they listened to everything we said and watched our every move. Well, they didn’t always watch us because most of the time I would take out the cameras. That didn’t stop them from listening to what we said though. I led her out of the elevator and over against a wall to examine the field we were in this time. There were platforms placed at all different levels above a floor of acid that would melt off your skin at the first touch. It was the most painful way to die in the games, at least that’s what they told us. Although getting shot repeatedly by robots was another painful way to go as well. This was all so stupid. They wanted us to die.
I examined the room and casually shot a portal on the wall next to me to knock off a camera into the acid. “Vital testing apparatus destroyed,” sounded the electronic voice from the walls. Karli giggled. I shot her a look that told her to shut it. She took this much less seriously than I did. Sometimes it got obnoxious and I’d have to tell myself that she was still fairly new to these games. The programmers loved to remind us how this was all just a game and only had the illusion of harm. The secret messages left by previous testers proved otherwise. There were all sorts of hidden writings that cameras never picked up that showed how people were driven insane because a puzzle was too hard to solve or because their partner had died somehow. And they didn’t even try to cover up the few walls with bloodstains on them. The pain and harm was all just an illusion. Right. Like I’d ever trust anything the programmers told me, even without the evidence that blatantly proved otherwise.
I started to creep out more to look around and see what pointless test they had for us today. No robots from where I could see. That was a good sign, at least. I was completely overwhelmed by the black granite walls though. I had never seen so much of the dark wall in one place before. It was everywhere. The look made me want to just walk off the edge of the platform we were on and just fall into the acid and make all this go away. Where was I supposed to shoot a portal? Karli shot a red portal at the ceiling above one of the platforms. Sure enough, it bounced off and had no effect. Great. Just great. I took a look all around us and suddenly had an idea. I shot a blue portal above the elevator doors, aimed at the floor, and fired purple below my feet. I fell through the floor and went flying out of the wall. It was a rough estimate when I shot my portal, and I barely made it on the edge of a platform above the acid. Karli jumped down my portal in the floor and landed next to me on the platform.
We were higher up than we were before and suddenly I could see a pattern for where we were supposed to go. There was a small platform low down just a short jump away. We needed to get up to a platform placed above our heads just a short way behind us. I shot my purple portal on the platform below us and jumped off. It was probably a ten-foot drop to the platform, which helped me shoot out faster and farther to the next platform up. The platforms made a z-shape and made a kind of staircase up to the next level. We kept up the pattern of shooting a portal on the wall and on the lower platforms to get up to the next door. It took us a little while and a bit of teamwork to get all the way to the next set of doors. We both made it and after the doors opened I ripped another camera off the wall and chucked it into the acid. This time when we heard the familiar, “Vital testing apparatus destroyed,” it echoed in a creepy, closer-than-you-think kind of way.
We walked into the next portion of the test and the doors slammed closed behind us. In this dark, narrow hallway I had never felt so trapped before. My breath was caught in my chest and I could barely hold off the instinct to run and fight to pry open the doors behind us. Whatever was waiting for us, my game-trained instincts knew it wasn’t good. “Karli,” I could barely whisper, “we should get out of here.”
“I have no idea.” The two of us crept forward slowly and cautiously. Every nerve in my body felt like fire. I was itchy everywhere but didn’t know where to itch so I kept my hands firmly on my portal gun, not that it would hurt anyone if I needed to. The most it could do was stun people for a few seconds. Then I heard, “There you are,” in a computerized voice and saw the red laser just in time to shove Karli down out of the way before the bullets came flying. “Robots!” I whispered to her. These stupid white robots who couldn’t move very well but could shoot bullets like nobody’s business were set up randomly on some levels to try and kill people. There was no way to get past them unless you killed them first. Karli hadn’t been on a level with them yet, and her wide eyes showed me she hadn’t believed what I’d said about them.
“What is going on?”
“Are you still there?” the robot stopped shooting and the laser started moving up and down to find us. They definitely weren’t bright, but that didn’t mean they weren’t lethal.
“Those are the robots I’ve been telling you about. They talk to you and then they kill you. We have to knock them over somehow so they’ll shut down. Do you see any cubes anywhere?” Sometimes the programmers were kind enough to provide us with these metal cubes to protect ourselves or help us.
“I don’t see any. Can we shoot a portal somewhere over there?”
“Only if you want to get shot.” I decided I’d take the risk for her so I waited until I heard “Sentry mode activated,” when I knew it was asleep before dive rolling, shooting a portal behind it, and hiding behind another wall. I motioned for her to stay completely still while I shot a portal on the wall next to me, stepped though behind the ridiculous thing, and kicked it over. As soon as it tipped over it started shooting wildly for about twenty seconds until it died. I walked back over to Karli but when I stuck out my hand to help her stand up, my arm didn’t respond.
She gasped and started making retching noises. She could barely choke out my name and point at my left arm.
I looked down and instantly regretted it. It always hurt worse after you looked at it. As soon as the pain hit, the muscles in my arm and hand completely tensed up and I couldn’t get them to loosen. I’d gotten shot when I kicked it over. One little bullet stuck out of my bicep and a small trail of blood ran down my arm. I looked back at Karli and suddenly everything became fuzzy and I started to lose my balance. She stood up and quickly helped steady me. I was trying not to show pain. I had to be strong for her. My muscles still wouldn’t relax though. “What do I do?” Of course I asked the stupidest question.
“Just hang tight.” She ripped off the bottom of her shirt and started to tie it around my arm to cut off the blood. I knew she was trying to hold herself together for my sake. “I don’t know what to do about that bullet.”
“Just leave it. We’ll be out of here soon enough.” I forced my arm to move so I could wipe the blood off my arm and onto my jacket.
“What do you mean?”
“Look.” Using my portal gun I pointed to the end of the hall. There was a window that was glowing with such impossibly bright light it could only be sunlight. Something I hadn’t seen in three years. Something I craved to see and feel more than anything. I had the desire to run and jump through the window and leave this catastrophe of a place behind me. But I had to hold on because I saw more red lasers cutting across the hall that led to the window.
“I see them too. How do we handle this?”
I thought for a second, then realizing that I’d survived being shot once and that I could probably do it again, I thought of a plan. “If we can tip one of them over, it’ll shoot the others and they’ll all die. Then we can break through the glass and get out of here for good.”
“Do you even know where we are right now or how to get home if we do get out?”
“No, but if I can survive in here, I think I can survive out there for a while. This is a death trap. That’s normal life. Living out there is a piece of cake once you’ve been through here. Especially when you’ve been here as long as I have.”
Karli took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and said, “Okay Sammi. I trust you. Get us out of here.”
I had her follow me closely as we crept along the wall. We passed the shut down robot and I saw my blood splattered on the wall next to about fifteen bullet holes from the robot. I tried to ignore it as I went closer and closer to those red lasers that meant unbearable pain. The wall holding the window was made completely of black granite. There was no way to shoot a portal and take the easy way out of getting shot. I had to pull another stunt like the first one. I couldn’t roll anymore for the sake of my shoulder, so I shot a portal across the hall, took off running, and shot my other portal behind a robot just as bullets started flying. I ran into the portal and kicked the robot as hard as I could before running back through to get out of danger. The robots started shooting each other wildly before falling over and shutting down. One of them had even shot through the window so we now had a clear pathway out. This was it. We were going to be free. I turned to Karli and smiled for the first time since I had been kidnapped and placed in this torture chamber. “You ready?”
“Let’s do it.” She smiled back.
I was going to just walk out of here, but I couldn’t contain my excitement. The adrenaline from getting shot was still coursing through me and winding me up so I took off running towards the window. Karli was close behind.
“There you are.” One robot had made it out of the massacre and in my adrenaline-addled state I hadn’t seen the lone red laser searching the room for us. I made it out the window and landed in the green grass outside. It was the brightest light I’d been in for a long time, but my eyes adjusted in time to turn around and see Karli slow down to shoot the robot.
“No!” I screamed before the adrenaline rush stopped cold and caused me to collapse with the rest of the world. I never got to enjoy the bright colors of the world outside. There were plants and trees all over. I didn’t care. The sky was blue and partly cloudy. I shut my eyes and longed to be back inside the bedroom the programmers gave to me, shut up in darkness. The world didn’t deserve to be this bright and glorious. I threw up on the grass I was kneeling in before I could get myself to look up at the window once again.
Karli had been shot seven times dead on in the chest. I had watched my sister die. The programmers didn’t care. They did send guards out to haul me back to my room where I stayed for the rest of the day. Someone did come in and removed the bullet from my arm and wrapped the wound in a sterile bandage before they called me out to the games again. At least they pretended like they cared about my health because I certainly didn’t.
There was no point to escaping now. It was all to keep Karli safe from the insanity of this life. I walked out to the new level with squared shoulders, a portal gun in my hand, and a new kind of determination to beat the programmers and these stupid games. None of it mattered. They had wasted their time on me. I stood at the edge of the platform looking down at the acid. I shot one more camera off the wall. And I jumped.