The CureThis is the first part of an adventure series where YOU determine the next step in the story.

The lab explodes around you in a deafening roar of violet flame, black smoke, and screams—both human and inhuman ones. A blast of heat and fire slams into your chest and stomach. The shock wave hurls you backward through the air and out of the door. The initial impact is so painful it’s disorienting; you barely notice the steel wall that abruptly ends your short flight. As you collapse in a heap of Kevlar and camouflage in the hallway outside, watching your squad incinerate in the chemical fire, a tiny thought whispers in the back of your mind.

We all knew this was a suicide mission.

Security alarms scream to life in the underground city of New Milwaukee. You hear a voice blaring on the overhead speakers but you can’t make out the words because of the ringing in your ears.

Not that you need to hear it; you know it’s about you.

The voice warbles on longer than it would take to simply notify the city that they were under siege by a small enemy force. You guess the extra bit contains instructions on securing the hybrid project—an unholy genetics program created by the city’s scientists and priests. As if the Biblical apocalypse on the surface wasn’t bad enough, the leaders of New Milwaukee were trying to become the very demons that humanity is fighting against. Since no one would join their cause, New Milwaukee created a virus and infected the water supply of three cities, including yours.

You look back into the destroyed lab and watch fire-retardant foam shower down and abate the fire. The hope for a cure was somewhere in that lab, and you failed to retrieve it.

You glance around the wide hallway and your eyes rest on a red, flashing emergency bulb on the wall, just a few feet down from where you lie. The light illuminates the painted block letters and numbers just below it: LEVEL 85. MAXIMUM SECURITY.

You’re so deep in the bowels of the city that you figure it will be another two minutes before security can even get to you. And once they do, you know they’ll take you in for questioning, torture you for information, and, when you refuse to break, they’ll use you in their demon research.

There’s no way you’ll allow that. You’d prefer an honorable death.

You reach for the pistol at your side but the holster is gone; all that remains is a melted stub of fabric. Your rifle is also nowhere to be found. Both must be in the lab.

You’d better get up then.

You roll over, feeling the pains of the explosion, and a searing pain shoots up your side. As you force yourself to your feet, your body’s agony helps you take stock of your injuries: a broken rib or two, a deep gash in your thigh, a sprained ankle, bruises everywhere, and so many small cuts that you don’t have time to count them all. You’re weaponless but you’re breathing.

You glance around for an exit or emergency hatch when movement in the lab catches your eye. By now the fire is out and the smoke makes it hard to see into the laboratory, but you can make out a small, round hatch swinging open on the right wall. A man pokes his head out and glances around the room. His face falls, crestfallen at the ruin.

Through the smoke you can make out his features: medium height, bald head, mustache, beady little eyes. You recognize him from the briefing. His name is Tankwald and Intelligence says he’s the lead scientist on the hybrid project.

Maybe this mission isn’t over after all.

You step to the side of the doorway so that the wall hides you from his view. Tankwald creeps from the hatch, stepping around and over mounds of foam that hide the bodies of your fallen teammates and New Milwaukee’s corrupt scientists.

Down the hall, you hear shouts. The guards are coming. But you need Tankwald to get a little farther from the door…

You hear footsteps now, fast and hard, heading your way.

A little farther…

Shadows appear at the end of the hall. They’re just around the corner.

Far enough. You duck inside the room, startling Tankwald, who jumps a foot in the air and shrieks. When he lands, he slips on the foam and his feet fly out from under him.

You move toward him as quickly as you can, given the slick floor, but you aren’t going fast enough. Tankwald climbs on all fours and scurries toward the hatch much faster than you can safely move without falling.

You launch yourself forward, throwing yourself onto a counter. The momentum propels you forward fast, sliding you across the slick surface like a greased pig. At the end of the counter you dive off head-first and land on Tankwald’s ankles. He shouts, either in alarm or pain; you can’t be sure. You really don’t care.

You jerk him back toward you and manage to slide him, face-down, beneath you. You jump to your feet, ignoring the pain in your body, and drag the scientist into the hatch. You slam the door shut and press a red button on the wall, which you assume will shut the hatch and activate the lock. The hatch swings shut and air hisses as it escapes. A soft white light illuminates the room.

You’re standing in a bare steel capsule, about fifteen feet to a side and seven feet high. At opposite ends of the room are two metal ladders going up to two hatches with release wheels. The left hatch is painted a soft blue and has a short directory printed next to it:

SOUTHEAST: Medical, Mess Hall, Dormitories, Entertainment, Garage, Armory

The right hatch is yellow. Its directory reads:

NORTHWEST: Engine Room, Hydroponic Gardens, Water Purification, Security, Administrative Offices, Helipad

Tankwald stares at you from where he sits against the wall, between both ladders, with his knees pulled up to his chest.

You check yourself for weapons, but you don’t even have your knife anymore. Without your armaments, you aren’t that much of a threat. And if you don’t get out of there, the guards will surely come through that hatch in the next few minutes.

You look down at Tankwald. “I don’t suppose you want to share the way out?”

His eyes narrow at you. He doesn’t respond.

What do you do?

A. Take the blue hatch to the southeast section of the city.
B. Take the yellow hatch to the northwest section of the city.

Vote in the comments or on Twitter. Voting ends Saturday night, July 27. The highest vote will be the next step in the story, posted in two weeks.

Beaker photo courtesy of Erin M.