"From our findings, we determined that you are no longer a match for our program. As such, your participation in this study will be terminated as of one minute ago. You have fourteen additional minutes to collect your belongings and remove yourself from this facility."
I blinked. That glowing red eye on the wall hadn't spoken for the entire eight weeks I'd been here. What an introduction.
I still had the blue mesh bag they gave me at "orientation". They hadn't let me bring anything, and what I did bring was swept away from me in that brightly-lit auditorium. There had been thirty-some others there, each sitting in chairs spaced twenty to thirty feet apart. Like they took quarantining real seriously, I remembered thinking. When the first of those chairs went off, the distance made a lot more sense.
From then on, every step I took in those halls, I felt like that was it - there'd be an electrocuted panel, or a hidden button, or concealed spikes. It was when I was among others that I embraced it more. When I had time to think, the reality of where we were seeped back in.
I knew my corner of the labyrinth by heart, but as I left my room, the floor lights flashed in a direction I realized I'd never even looked before. I'd forgotten or otherwise not noticed that this wasn't just a one-way corridor. I turned right instead of left and slunk along.
I passed rooms I'd never seen, saw silhouettes of people in masks, in labcoats, in suits. I again played my part as the lab rat and scurried on by.
The front door opened like a bank vault, with air desperate to get out rushing past me to the sunny, outside world.
They'd called me a cab, I saw. I don't know why the thought struck me as funny.