There had to be a way out, that was the whole point, after all. It was probably hidden, or there was a secret panel she needed to push.
Britta put her hands against the rough rock wall and felt around for some kind of trigger. She found nothing, at least not in the areas she could reach. It was a big, blank wall.
The people in the room were talking amongst themselves, which was good. She could still hear their snide remarks, but it wasn’t hard to ignore them. They weren’t really even talking about her, their comments were aimed at the gnome character she had chosen. The one she had deliberately made as plain and ugly as possible. If they didn’t like the way she looked, that just meant she’d done an excellent job.
Britta tried to look for some other way out. It was difficult to see anything through the forest of legs surrounding her. She ducked her head up and down and side to side to get a better view, darting between gaps when they appeared.
By the time she got to the left wall, it became clear there wasn’t a way out here, either. Another solid, blank wall. She suspected the same would be true on the other side, but felt obliged to check. She weaved her way through the crowd and the hushed insults that somehow found their way to her ears. She did have quite large ears. If she had extra-strong hearing, perhaps she should make a point of using that to her advantage in the future.
As expected, there was no exit on the other side. Her only option was to go leave the room the way she’d come and find another way around.
Only, there wasn’t an opening there anymore. Having struggled her way back to where she’d entered the room, all she found was yet another blank wall.
She desperately felt around the area she knew the opening had been in. Nothing.
It wouldn’t be very hard to seal off the room in digital terms. Press a button and hey presto, probably. But there still had to be a way to get out. This was a puzzle, not a prison. She had to think her way out.
The problem was, it was impossible to think with all the noise. It wasn’t very loud, but it was persistent. And it was about her.
Her name wasn’t mentioned. No specifics were used that could have identified her. The comments could have been about anyone, but she knew they were about her. And it was starting to get on her nerves.
Obviously, that was the idea. She knew that. It was designed to keep her off-balance and unable to think clearly. But being aware of it didn’t stop it pissing her off.
“Imagine waking up to that.”
The voices flowed into each other. Male, female, some kind of purring cat… they were overwhelming.
Britta pushed her way through the crowd, angrily shoving people out of her way. There was a way out here. If the game wanted to hide it from her, she would dig her way out. She began scratching at the wall.
Not even one speck of dust came loose. There was nothing she could do.
She slid down to the floor and sat with her back to the wall. No one was paying her any attention, and yet she felt their sideways glances peeking through their masks. Was she being paranoid? No, the one thing she wasn’t doing was being too self-centred. This was designed with her in mind. It was all about her. That’s what made it so unbearable.
“Hey!” she shouted. The room fell silent. The masks all turned to look at her. “How do I get out of here?”
There was probably a clever solution to finding the exit, but she didn’t have the energy. Her body was fine—she could run for miles—but her brain could barely function. It was time to take the direct approach.
“Look, you don’t want me here, and I don’t want to be here. So, show me the way out, and we’ll all be happier, won’t we?”
She felt her logic was sound, but there was no response. They just stared at her. Would she have to start killing people? Normally, she would do everything she could to avoid that, but for these people, she might make an exception.
Were they watching this on big screens back at mission control? Was Dr Reedy observing with interest?
Britta took a deep breath. They had started talking about her again.
“She’s so weird.”
“Crazy, more like.”
“She gives me the creeps.”
If she killed them all, they’d have to stop talking. Or they’d come back as zombies and carry on. There had to be a simple solution. This was a Level 3 problem. It just needed a Level 3 answer.
They were still looking at her, still saying nasty things. It was easy to make fun of the way she looked when their own faces were covered up.
Britta stood up. She was the shortest person here, but the heights varied. She looked for someone nearer her own size. She spotted one and marched straight towards them.
Nobody tried to stop her. They even got out of her way. She walked up to what could have been a man or a woman of any number of races. It didn’t matter. The mask they wore was of an elegant, disapproving deer. There were even horns attached.
The eyes looked down at her through the slits in the mask. They looked down figuratively and literally. But not very far. Not out of reach.
She reached out and snatched the mask off the person’s face. Boy, girl, lizard, whatever it was underneath, it covered its face with its hands and fell to the floor screaming, “Don’t look! Don’t look!”
Britta put the mask on her own head. She looked around and saw the exits. There was one in each wall.
There was sobbing from the floor. It was scared and desperate and horrible.
Was this really the only way? To hide yourself and make someone else the target? What kind of messed up lesson was that?