Beyond The Void

 

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Chapter 1

 

By all accounts Clyde Lyre was an average man. When he was younger Clyde had imagined himself being an astronaut. This was a dream that many of his peers had shared, but Clyde believed in this dream with a fervent passion. Throughout his younger years Clyde had worked hard on science, math and all the trivia that an astronaut could possibly need. But, alas, by the time he was ready to move on from High-School to college those dreams had faded. By all accounts, Clyde was an average man, and like any average man he had let the pressures of the world weigh him down. 

 

So, instead, Clyde Lyre went the way of many wide eyed young hopefuls, and despite the odds tried his very best. Just like most of those other young hopefuls, it didn't look like his very best was going to be enough. Instead of jetting off among the stars, Clyde was jetting between the shopping aisles. Stacking tins on shelves, making sure things weren't going out of date. His dream remained, smoldered beneath his heart, and carved out a pit where it would remain unnurtured. Sometimes, Clyde would look up at the stars with envy. 

 

Statistically speaking, no life can remain average forever. Along the course of a persons life there will be one, or in some cases two, anomalies that will set certain days apart, anomalies that were guaranteed to happen. In most cases these anomalies were small, like perhaps catching a glimpse of a celebrity down the street and managing to stop them for an autograph. But, much rarer, the average man could be altered into something rather different. Sometimes these life changing anomalies were large, intense, world breaking and destructive. Before these anomalies force themselves into being there are ripples. They force themselves back through time and settle themselves in your gut, manifesting as an uncertain niggle at the back of your mind or a distinct feeling of de-ja-vu. The body knows that something is coming, even if the mind doesn't. By all accounts, Clyde Lyre was an average man, but that average life was about to be ripped apart. 

 

Running down the aisle of a supermarket wasn't exactly the smartest thing for an out of shape shelf stacker to do, but Clyde had other things on his mind, so he let his feet slap the tiles with reckless abandon as he huffed and puffed his way toward the staff break room. As a humble supermarket worker Clyde couldn't afford many expensive things, but he had always made a point of keeping an up to date smartphone. Most days it was tucked away in his pocket, safe and sound, away from any prying eyes or thieving hands. Only this time he had managed to forget it, likely on the table in the staff room where he had been drinking his morning cup of coffee. Clyde didn't have the money for insurance, so unless it was still there, he would have to go out and buy an older model. This wasn't ideal, even older phones would carry a hefty price tag if he wanted access to a half decent internet browser. 

 

He burst through the door of the staff room completely out of breath, and his gut fell. The phone wasn't on the cheat plastic table that took up the corner of the room, and after ducking down to look at the ground he could see it wasn't there either. Someone else in the store must have nabbed it while he was out of the room, and that could have been any of what was probably almost a hundred people. 

 

"Shit," Clyde cursed to himself before sinking down onto one of the cheap plastic chairs. 

 

That phone wasn't just the only line he ha to the internet, and with that the numerous numbers of science chat boards he was signed up to, it was his only link to Jessica. When Clyde had met Jessica, on one of the aforementioned science chat boards of course, he was blown away. Most of the girls he met in his day to day life wouldn't give him a second of their time, but Jessica was different. He checked his watch, the date was only three hours away, and if the swirling pit of unease in his stomach was anything to go by, things were only going to get worse. 

 

Clyde had no way of knowing that he was sealing his fate as he stood and gave one last huff of discontent before storming out of the room. This was the moment. If Clyde had been more thorough he would have known that Jessica was feeling ill, he would have been able to stay home. But reality had splintered, and as his phone blinked lonesomely under the raggedy sofa on the other side of the room, it was already far too late. 

 

Clyde slammed the front door of his one bedroom apartment and began to pace. He had decisions to make, and pacing had always helped with that. On the one hand he could dash over to a phone store with the hope of downloading the chat board app he had been using. Though considering most store phones had a lock on what you could an couldn't do it was a bit of a shot in the dark. Alternately, he could take a shower to cool off and try to make it to the date on time. He tapped out a rhythm of four on his palm to help him think. That rhythm had always helped him make decisions in the past, they may not have all been the right decisions, but he would stand by them. So, Clyde made the choice any man would make, he decided to go on the date. 

 

He had met Jessica online around three months ago, and they'd hit it off immediately. He was into hard science, she was into geeky science fiction,and although they weren't exactly the same thing, the pair took great pleasure in debating the evolution of technology and where it might go next. They had also apparently gone to the same high school, though considering Clyde hadn't really socialised during those years it wasn't too surprising that they had never met each other before. He had always been squirreled away in the library reading books. The real killer for Clyde was Jessica's eyes. In certain pictures her eyes seemed to almost glow icy blue, and whether that was his overactive imagination, a trick of the light or some nifty work on a photo editor Clyde didn't know. He also didn't care, he was smitten. 

 

Half an hour, one lukewarm shower and half a bottle of aftershave later, Clyde was ready to throw caution to the wind and meet up with who he had quickly come to call his soul mate. He passed the swirling unease in his stomach off as jitters, pre-date butterflies, his nerves playing up on him. He thought, quite rightly, that a great change was going to happen while he was on his date with Jessica. He would go from being that lonely geeky guy who sometimes worked the tills to that less lonely geeky guy who sometimes worked the tills, and also had a girlfriend. In Clyde's mind that was a massive change. 

 

This was the series of events that had led Clyde Lyre to be sitting alone in a central London pub. A warm, half finished, pint of beer sat on the table in front of him, and his head was swaying drunkenly from side to side. Around him people were chatting and bouncing lightly on their feet in time with both the music and the beating heart of the city itself, spilling out of the main doors of the pub and into the streets themselves. The stale smell of beer on the sticky wooden floor alongside the happiness of everyone else in the room only served to make Clyde's heart drop even further. Who was he kidding. Sure, it wasn't the first time he had been stood up. Sure, he probably should have seen it coming. He had just thought Jessica was different, that she understood where he was coming from. He let out a derisive snort at the thought and downed the rest of his pint in one long gulp. Who knows, maybe she'd actually cancelled on him, but without his phone there was no way to know for sure. 

 

It was no use moping around the bar he should have been meeting up with the potential love of his life in, no good at all.That and the need to pee had washed over him completely, and he didn't want to add wetting himself to the growing list of bad things. He staggered through the waves of people, the ground uneven beneath his feet and his head lolling from side to side with every step, Clyde had never been able to hold his alcohol. He started down the stairs, missed a step, and only narrowly managed to avoid tumbling down the rest by grabbing for the banister. He let out a snort of laughter at his near injury, but in truth he was just trying to hide a sob. 

 

This always happened. He fell for a brand new manic pixie dream girl, a woman that would probably never love him, and always a woman that was far out of his league. Then he drank away his sorrows after getting stood up, which he always regretted in the morning. Especially if he had work the next day. He leant against the wall and did his business, nearly slipping on  the slick tiles. Suffice to say, it hadn't been a good night. Well, it hadn't been a good year. 

 

Clyde staggered over to the wash basin and splashed some cold water over his hands. He looked up into the mirror and caught sight of his bloodshot eyes, once bright and filled with hope at what could be waiting for him beyond the bounds of planet Earth, now drowned in drink and despair. If his father could see him now the senior Lyre would have probably told him to pull his socks up and to keep marching on. Clyde thought that would be pretty hard to do, considering it was the middle of the summer and he was wearing flip flops. He blearily made his way up the stairs once more, barged his way through the happy throngs of party people in the pub, and made his way out into the fresh open air. He breathed in deep, staggered forward a few steps, and then looked upward with bleary eyed envy. The moon hung solitary in the sky, the stars were blotted out by the light pollution of the city. 

 

"Well fuck you too," He yelled, pointing haphazardly at the sky, imagining the handful of people that were hurtling around the planet at just over 5 miles per second at that very moment. "Fuck you, and fuck everything you've done. I could've done that, easy peasy," He hiccuped and staggered a few steps forward. 

 

People watched the crazy man shouting up at the sky. Some had pulled their phones out to film the raving man, cursing his misfortunes and blaming it on what they could only assume was some sort of god. 

 

None of them were prepared for the van that swerved around the corner, tailed closely by police cars with blaring sirens. No one was close enough to the drunk to push or pull him out of the way. The van hit him hard and fast. It was just a glancing blow off the front corner of the bonnet, but the van had been moving fast enough to flip him through the air. 

 

A collective gasp, some turned away, others kept recording on their mobile phones as he came back down with a sickening crunch. His head hit the ground first, cracking wetly on the pavement. Blood pooled around his head like a halo, pulsing into the street mixed with bone and gristle. 

 

The man in the van staggered out, his hands held to his head, tears streaming down his cheeks. He hadn't seen the drunken idiot, it was just meant to be a routine break in, no one was meant to get hurt let alone killed. He was brought to his knees by one police man while the other cautiously stepped over to the downed drunk. He put his fingers to the mans neck, but it was plain for anyone to see that it was no use. The man was broken. 

 

Clyde Lyre was dead. 

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Chapter 2

Void. Darkness. An infinite black. Small pricks of light drifted down from above. There was no source for these little orbs of light, they flickered into existence and then slowly drifted down on their ceaseless pilgrimage into the unknowable. Sinking and sinking until, eventually, they blinked out just as suddenly as they had appeared. 

 

Then there was a man. His black hair came down past his ears, scruffy and unkempt, a wild mane. While he seemed dressed to impress, his black slacks and grey polo did nothing to alleviate his very obvious pot belly. It wasn't something this man had gained through age, either. It was clear the man was young, no older than his early or late twenties. He woke screaming. 

 

"Oh for the love of all that is right, another screamer," said the void. 

 

"Please, he did just die you know, show a little compassion if you could," the void replied. 

 

"Look, everyone dies eventually, why is it that we always have to deal with the loud and whiny ones?" the void asked. 

 

"Quite simply, we deal with the premature, and that usually involves something bloody, terrible and quite a bit painful," the void replied once more. 

 

Slowly two shapes became clear in the darkness, made up of a substance that was somehow blacker and darker still. The only reason they were visible at all was due to the outline they left against the motes of light that flowed around them. They were both the same height, both the same width, and neither had any discernible features of any kind. They were manifestations of the void, and from the void they were made. The man was still screaming.

 

"Clyde Lyre, would you please be quiet," the leftward figure said, placing its hands on its hips like a school teacher. Clyde complied, his voice slowly tapered off into a hoarse choke. He stood there, shivering, arms wrapped around his chest, gazing out into the void and the lights before finally settling on the two figures in front of him. 

 

"I said compassion you know," the rightward figure chastised, giving the other a hard kick on the shin. 

 

"Where..." Clyde began, his voice small and scared, "What is this place?"

 

"You know full well I am incapable of feeling physical assaults like that," the leftward figure snapped. "Compassion this, compassion that, it worked didn't it? Already quiet, and already asking the right questions!" 

 

"Yes, well, it wouldn't hurt if you were a little nicer from time to time would it,"

 

"Never tried, actually. Considering we can't feel pain I'll hazard a guess and say no. But on the other hand, it might be excruciatingly painful," the figure snarked, "and as for you, little human, welcome to death!"

 

Clyde stiffened like a board. Tears prickled at the corners of his eyes until they eventually started spilling down his cheeks, twinkling as they fell into the void below. He thought that he might have been abducted by aliens, or that he was having a very odd dream, but death? He didn't believe it. He couldn't be dead. But then, why had he automatically started crying at those words? It was almost as if his body had known the shades in front of him were telling the truth. The memories came back slowly, one by one, swimming into focus. Losing his phone, being stood up, drinking himself half to death, and then finally the van. Clyde let a hand trail up to the back of his head, it came away both red and wet. They were right, he was dead. 

 

"Oh look what you've gone and done now! He's crying!" The creature on the right exclaimed. 

 

"Well now, how was I meant to know he was going to react like that? You are being quiet ridiculous today, so sentimental over the precious little humans." 

 

"All humans react like that, it's pretty much human 101. You mention death, they lose all sense of reason and turn into shivering wrecks, case and point," the creature said, gesturing at Clyde with an arm that seemed far too long for its height. 

 

"Well why don't you try and calm him down, do the whole explanation of why he's ended up in the between, and I'll try and scoop his memories before he fades too much. You should be able to do that, considering how you're so good at all this human stuff," the one on the left said, crossing its elongated arms with a huff. 

 

The one on the right shook its head and stepped up to Clyde. It put its arms around the sobbing man and drew him forward, wrapping him in a tight hug. For a moment Clyde resisted and tried to pull away from the gangly creature, but he quickly realized that he felt rather cold, and the creature was rather warm. So instead he let himself be comforted and folded into his embrace. The creature cooed softly at the man and ran its spindly fingers through his hair, careful to avoid the hole in his skull. Within no time Clyde was as quiet as a newborn baby in its mothers arms. 

 

"There," it murmured, "Humans just need a little bit of compassion and understanding in these trying times, that's all."

 

Clyde still felt a little shaken, but he had to admit that for the most part the creature was right. He felt a great deal better after the hug and the understanding, and his mind was finally starting to catch up with the situation. Against all the scientific knowledge bouncing about in his head, he was dead, and he was still conscious in some sort of afterlife. 

 

"So, is this hell," Clyde said, his voice much stronger than he expected, "Because I have to say, I was expecting far more demons and flames." 

 

The creature that had given him a hug let off a loud laugh, a high pitched tinkle that was really rather pleasant. "Now, would a demon of hell truly seek to comfort a newly deceased human?" it asked, shaking its head. "This is not hell, little human. That realm does not exist in the way your species describes it, nor does your concept of heaven. I suppose, in your tongue... limbo would be a better term."

 

"Limbo?"

 

"Yeah, the bit before you get sent to hell," the one on the left chuckled darkly. 

 

"Oh for goodness..." the nicer creature sighed, "I just told him there was no hell, why would you even try to make a joke like that?

 

"Hang on, that doesn't make sense," Clyde retorted, "If there's no heaven and there's no hell why would there be a limbo? What exactly are we in between at the moment?"

 

"Oh, get past the tears and this one's actually got some brains in him, eh? Well, mostly, some of them are still splattered over a street in London," snarked the one on the left. 

 

"Oh come on, that was just uncalled for," the one on the right exclaimed, before it noticed that Clyde was in fact laughing. 

 

"He gets it," the one on the left laughed. "Look, enough of this bickering. Like the human could even understand the majesty of what lies in this realm, just explain the stuff, I'm nearly done sifting through his pathetically boring memories." 

 

"Yeah, explain the... stuff," Clyde said, "If there's no heaven and no hell... what comes next?"

 

"So eager to get to the next when you haven't even explored the here," the compassionate one said, gesturing to the empty expanse around them with its absurdly long arm, "How charmingly... human of you."

 

"Well okay then," Clyde said, unconsciously tapping a beat of four on his palm, "Explain."

 

"Limbo, sort of, like he said," the rude one began. "You are currently in the void, the eternal space between dimensions, the bit of time and space that keeps universes from crashing into each other and bouncing around like inter-dimensional pinball's. It's also the realm of the dead. When a sentient being dies, its soul comes to the void and their soul is judged, have they lived a worthy life or have they wasted it away." 

 

Clyde winced at that, remembering his countless hours of loafing around the house after work in his underwear, eating nothing but packs of Doritos with a side of coleslaw. "Is that why I'm here... am I unworthy?"

 

"Oh hoho, you are an eager one aren't you, even by human standards. Don't worry, we'll get to that shortly, very shortly, before your final brainwaves unravel. That's how you get lost in this aether, just drifting in the dark, don't want that, lots of nasty spooky things out here," the one on the left remarked, its head turning form side to side as if it were looking out for any spooky things. 

 

"Not that you have to worry about any of those things," the kind one cut in, "Because we are now going to get to the judging very quickly. After that, depending on the quality of life that you lived, one of two things will happen. If you have lived a worthy life your soul will be imbued with light, and you will be sent on the pilgrimage below, where you will become one with the multiverse and lay witness to eternity. On the other hand, if your life wasn't a particularly worthy one, you will simply be reincarnated in a brand new world! One which will give you the best chance at living a fulfilled life!" It finished off chirpily. 

 

The information was enough to make his head spin and he needed a moment to register it all, but as it all began to make sense a smile began to blossom on his face. No heaven, no hell, two equally good outcomes. He would either live for eternity as one of those motes of light, witness to all of creations wonders, or he would be reborn in a world where things seemed like they would be designed to go right for him. 

 

"See, compassion and understanding, works every time," the creature said smugly. 

 

"Yeah, well, your kindness and compassionate approach has taken a little too long, look at our charge's right hand." 

 

The creature on the right could not, as there was no longer a right hand to look at. In the midst of all their chatting Clyde had slowly begun to unravel, the very essence of his being torn apart at the most base levels. The humans astral body had slowly begun to unfurl due to the strain of physical manifestation in the void, and if it were allowed to continue, he would be scattered into the aether, never allowed to become one with eternity. 

 

"Oh," Clyde gasped, "That's new, there used to be a hand there," he stammered and raised the offending arm. He had expected to see a stump pulsing with thick, red blood and exposed bone, but instead his arm ended in what looked like threads of pulsing light. 

 

"Right, yes, good point, no more time for explanations! You don't have a hand, which means that we probably need to get on with the judging and the sending you off to eternity or to another world," the kind one said, "Now this may sting... just a little bit." 

 

The meaner of the two voidlings rushed forward, it seemed to expand outward and fill his entire vision. The blackest black he had ever borne witness to, and then it covered him entirely. It was suffocating, and the nicer of the two was right, it stung. It were as if every nerve in his body was being assaulted at once, lighting his body up in a map of pain. Then the memories began. He was a baby, fresh born into the world, wriggling and screaming in the arms of a doctor. He was a toddler, waddling across the floor to his mother who had a beaming smile on her face. He was ten years old, dressed in a tux, everyone around him was crying, his mother had died of cancer. Fifteen years old, smoking behind the sheds at school, kissing Melly Smith full on the lips and handing her a fiver afterwards. Eighteen years old, the realisation he wouldn't become who he wanted to become. Twenty-three, he was working in a ship, looking for dates online, loafing around in his underwear. Twenty-four, still at the shop, he was drinking in a bar, he walking out into the street, shouting at the sky, cursing the universe he had been born into. He was lying on the ground, blood seeping from the wound in his head, his light flickering out for the final time. 

 

The void dweller pulled away, slowly, as if it were afraid that the human it had just judged would break apart at a moment's notice. It had been mean and crass before, but somehow the entire vibe of the entity had changed, morphing from a twisted malfeasance to... almost understanding. Clyde staggered and let out a sharp breath of air but managed to keep standing. Tears trickled from the corners of his eyes again, not due to fear or disbelief of his mortal end, but at the realisation he had not managed to do a thing in his life. That struck him deep to the core. 

 

"Well then..." the kinder of the two said, trying to keep the emotion from its voice. "I guess we both know where you're going, new universe and all that."

 

"Yeah... I um... Yeah." Clyde stammered, unsure of what to say. 

 

"From the judging, space was kind of your thing, right? Exploring the stars, going where no man has ever gone before, that sort of stuff. So, that's where you're going, life among the stars like you always dreamed!" It continued, the creatures previous bouncy chipperness returned to its voice. "Don't worry about all the logistics, we'll be sorting all of that out on our end. You'll be placed into this new universe as if you had always been there, or well, as close to that as we can get. Be careful though, sentients only get a single re-do, if you manage to mess this life up you will be unraveled, thread by thread... and trust me, that's not a pleasant experience." 

 

"Hang on, wait, I have so many questions!" Clyde began. "How will I know what to do? What does living a worthy life even mean?" 

 

The creatures had no faces, yet somehow, Clyde felt as if they were both giving him a knowing smile. As if that were a question that they had been asked many times in the past. They didn't answer him, simple answers weren't the point of this whole process. It was about learning, self discovery, it was about a second chance. 

 

Clyde's body slowly began to fade away, his questions unanswered. The two beings slowly merged back into the void once more, as if they had never been there to begin with. The motes of light, the souls of the worthy, drifted ever downward. Pinpricks against the eternal void. 

 

Below, it devoured.

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Chapter 3

Clyde woke with a gasp, his hand immediately went to his head, trying to seek out any kind of damage. There was none, no blood matted to his previously sticky hair, no crack in his skull exposing his innards to the outside world. Clyde had always been a man of reason, and yet, there had seemingly been more to life than the unavoidable end. What should have been irreparable had been reversed, and he was whole once more. 

 

Clyde laughed, he felt exhilarated, he had managed to cheat death. Sure, every sentient being in the multiverse was given that opportunity and chance, but considering he had thought death was going to be his complete end it was still a rush. Not only that, the creatures from within the void had said they were basically going to set him up with the dream. He was going to fly through space and be a total badass. No more being stood up for online dates, no more wild nights in the middle of London, he was free from all the troubles of his past world... and that felt fantastic. 

 

He took stock of the room he was in for the first time. All the surfaces in the room, from the ceiling to the floor, seemed to be made of the same gun metal material, other than the black carpeting on certain sections of the ground. The bed he was lying in was coloured navy blue, a deep colour that he appreciated well enough. The bed itself seemed to hang out of the wall rather than sitting on the floor as he would have expected on Earth. The only light came from a series of lights that fit in between each metal panel on the cieling, as well as the windows that looked out into the dark reaches of space. 

 

Clyde's heart skipped a beat, and he all but launched himself out of his bed. The windows. The windows were looking out into space. Not space that was far up above, out of reach from the surface of a planet. But space that was right there in front of him. An infinite expanse of inky black, littered with the pinpricks of far off stars. 

 

Back on Earth it had all felt so far away, but now it was right there, right outside his bedroom window in all its infinite majesty. There was just a little bit of glass keeping him safe, and out there, the wild plains of the unknown. It was beautiful, it was terrifying, it was fantastic. Clyde wanted to explore it all. He would explore it all. Well, maybe not all, at least as much as he could. 

 

He had known what was coming, but seeing it right in front of him left Clyde in a state of pure, unadulterated awe. When you stood on the surface of a planet you were somehow separated from the infinite scale of the universe. You could acknowledge that it was all out there, but you had the rock and earth under your feet to keep you grounded. When you were in space you had none of that, it was just there, and with nothing to ground him... Clyde felt like he was part of it all. 

 

He gazed out of the window into the ceaseless expanse of space. It streched out for light years below him, light years above him, and light years to the sides. Far out there were the twinkles of other star systems, glimmering prettily like diamonds on a jewelry shelf. It was beautiful, truly breathtaking, and the endless potential of it all made Clyde's head spin. He turned away from the window, tapped his gingers on his palm, and sucked in a long breath of air. 

 

Clyde noticed the data-pad on the bedside table, which was also a gunmetal grey. That was a colour that would get boring after a while, and Clyde hoped that there was a way to add a splash of colour to the room if he was set to spend a prolonged period of time in it. 

 

He walked back over to the bed, grabbed the data pad, and sat down cross legged. There was only one button on the front of the machine, though it looked similar enough to a tablet device that he wasn't all that worried. He pushed the button and, as expected, it powered on. Though Clyde quickly found that he couldn't understand any of the words on the screen. A beam of light leapt out of the machine and shone straight onto his forehead. Slowly, the words on the tablet morphed from the strange symbols into the English he was used to. 

 

Welcome to the Federation Recruitment Initiative [CLYDE LYRE] You are one of many hopefuls across the Galaxy who are now trying to enter the Elite Protector Corps, the group of brave souls dedicated to protecting our sovereign borders of space and the alliance of planets and civilizations that make up the Federation. Your FRI will take part in three stages, testing your decision making skills, your combat skills and last but not least your pilot abilities! If you manage to make it to the end and pick up the interest of a squad-leader then you'll be accepted into a division. But you better make sure you do good out there, because only the best are accepted into the Elites! Good luck, your FRI begins now!

 

"Wait, begins now?" Clyde muttered to himself. 

 

"Alert! Room integrity at 88%, and falling, you have 300 seconds until window blow out! Doors are non-functional, please evacuate this area and report to the main deck!" The computer replied. 

 

It took a moment for Clyde to realise what the report of the computer systems meant. Then another moment for him to take a deep breath and avoid the rush of panic he felt welling up inside him. The data-pad had claimed that the first test was going to be one on his decision making ability, so obviously he had to make the right choices to escape the room before the windows blew out and explosive decompression sucked him out into the icy expanse. It was his first test, and not one he wanted to fail. If he did it would be straight back to the void, and straight into the unraveling. 

 

"Uh... Computer, estimated chance of survival?" Clyde blurted out, casting his eyes around the room for anything immediately obvious to help his escape. There was nothing.

 

"Estimated chances of survival for occupants in this room are less than 10%!" the computer chirped back, it sounded far too happy considering the danger he was in. 

 

"Not the best odds," he grumbled to himself, "Why are the doors inoperative?"

 

"Debris have jammed the opening mechanism, there is no way to repair this fault!" 

 

"Can I override the teleport grid?" 

 

"Phrase "Teleport Grid" is not stored in my memory banks, you have less than 250 seconds to vacate this room before window blowout!" 

 

"Damn it, what kind of cool future world doesn't have teleport systems," He cursed. "Are there any other ways out of the room? Air ducts, waste tubes, anything like that?" 

 

"Ventilation access is located beneath the bed in this room!" The computer replied. 

 

Clyde dove to his knees, pulled the boxes that lay underneath the bed away, and threw them aside. It would be a tight fit, but he would likely be able to squeeze through the vents if he tried hard enough. The only matter would be getting the grill off the front of the vent, there didn't seem to be any screws connecting it to the wall, and after giving it a solid tug there didn't seem to be any way to just pull it away either. 

 

"What exactly secures the grill to the vents down here?" Clyde called out to the computer. 

 

"Magna-clamps hold the grill to the ventilation system," the computer responded helpfully. 

 

"And I guess they work with some sort of magnetic pull... how am I meant to deal with that..." Clyde cursed and remembered the pad. It must work through some kind of electronics, and if he could figure out how to open its casing he might be able to short circuit the thing. Rigging that up to the so called magna clamps might just be enough to disrupt the magnetic pull holding the system together. 

 

He slid out from under the bed, ignored the computer when it told him he only had a hundred seconds left to escape the room and grabbed the data-pad. He swung it down as hard as he could against the metal floor and was surprised to see the thing burst into shards, and the metal floor itself buckle slightly at the force of the blow. 

 

"That was... unexpected," Clyde muttered to himself, allowing his finger to ghost over the damaged section of floor. "But, doesn't help me now that I've destroyed the pad." 

 

He dove back to the ground and slid back under the bed. He had just managed to make a piece of sturdy futuristic technology explode with his bare hands, and he'd managed to leave a hefty dent in the metal ground. Either the floor wasn't as strong as it was made out to be, or he was much stronger than he remembered. 

 

"Thirty seconds remaining until this room is unfit for habitation," The computer announced, somehow the chirpiness of the machine had become much more serious. 

 

"Right then, no time to waste I guess," Clyde muttered to himself.

 

He grabbed onto the vents grill once more, gripped tighter than he had previously, and pulled with all his strength. At first there was nothing, but then inch by inch the piece of metal began to move. It screamed out in protest, but Clyde would not relent, and in a shower of sparks it came free. 

 

Clyde wasted no time in celebrating his victory, he tossed the grill aside and wiggled his body into the air duct system. The computer began its ten second countdown, and then everything went to hell. He heard the glass shatter first, and then the air began to rush past him. Clyde braced his arms and legs against the interior of the and hoped that it would be enough to stop him from being blown away into the dark. The only way he would survive this was if the ship or station he was on worked like any he had seen in science fiction. There had to be some sort of forcefield or secondary hull just for this kind of scenario. The air grew thinner and thinner, and then just as Clyde was beginning to give up hope, he heard a heavy metal clank from the room. 

 

The rush of air slowed down, and then returned to its normal rate, blowing gently across his face. Clyde shuffled his way out of the duct, his heart hammering heavily in his chest. He was unsure if he was going to cry or shout out in victory. The choked sound that forced its way out of his throat was a strange mixture of both. 

 

The door of the room swished open with a mechanical click, clearly it hadn't been as jammed as the computer had lead him to believe. Clyde didn't know if the people in charge would have actually let him get sucked out into space, but he wanted to err on the side of caution from that point on. He would treat every challenge as a genuine threat to his life, and he would also be at least a little wary of any information given to him by the computer systems. 

 

The computer wasn't giving him any instructions, and he couldn't hear anything from out in the hall. Whoever was running the tests expected him to go out into the corridor and confront whatever the next challenge was. Clyde shrugged, they had already tried to kill him once and this was a test all about decision making. He could go out into the corridor, but he had already ripped the vent out of place once. Two could play at being sneaky, and from every science fiction movie he had ever watched, Clyde knew that the Humans were always the miles above the rest when it came to doing the unexpected. 

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