Carissa awoke to the sound of something landing hard on the elevator in which she lived. The elevator was in a slow climb at the time of impact.
“What the hell was that?” she said, removing her headphones, glancing upward at the ceiling, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. The lighting panels were still intact, currently in the shade of twilight blue that Carissa liked when she was sleeping. For safety reasons, the elevator’s cloudlet preferred not to dim the lights into complete darkness.
“A solid mass, approximately one hundred and two kilograms, landed at high speed on the roof,” the cloudlet replied.
“Full stop,” she said, and the cloudlet complied by gently decelerating the elevator to a halt. “How far away is the nearest safe floor?”
“Twenty-seven thousand, four hundred and eight floors below us,” said the cloudlet.
* * *
She slipped into her mechanic’s overalls and said, “What do you think it is?”
“I think it’s alive,” the cloudlet said.
“That seems unlikely,” she replied.
“The event does seem to violate several safety protocols,” the cloudlet agreed. “But its weight has shifted slightly since it landed.”
“Did it land on the hatch?” she asked.
“The hatch is clear. It landed near the exterior wall of the elevator shaft.”
The last time Carissa had occasion to go outside the elevator in between floors was during a safety drill she ran with her cloudlet when they were getting to know each other, right after she moved into this elevator; would’ve been maybe a decade ago if she remembered correctly.
She checked her supply of first aid pills—she still had half a pouch full. She stuffed the pouch in one of the many pockets of her overalls. Out of habit, she slipped a slim handheld tablet into another pocket.
Bringing a hundred-kilo mass of “I think it’s alive” into her elevator didn’t sound super appealing. But you couldn’t just leave “I think it’s alive” on the roof, either. You always had to help people in this ridiculous place.
She wrapped a belt around her overalls, clipped a pistol and a knife to it. She put on a sleek helmet with an embedded headlamp and slipped its tiny oxygen-supply mask over her nose. If she was up there longer than five minutes, she’d need to drop back down for proper air.
“Let’s talk through this,” she said. “What’s on that safe floor?”
“Wild Massive Super is the main attraction,” the cloudlet replied. “We would not open in a mapped location.”
So if Carissa’s elevator opened its doors on that floor, it might come as a complete surprise to anyone in the vicinity. It might open its doors in the middle of a room, or in a garbage dump, or in a parking lot. It might be witnessed by dozens or hundreds; it might go unnoticed completely. Since it was an unmapped location, no one would be waiting to board the elevator, but many might recognize the significance of a Building elevator appearing suddenly in their midst. Attention might be paid; shrines might be built; Carissa might be highly annoyed.
But Wild Massive Super was the flagship theme park in the Wild Massive empire and would almost certainly have proper medical, if for some reason her first aid pills failed to do the trick. Hopefully, “I think it’s alive” could pay to get in.
“Open the ceiling hatch for me,” Carissa said. “I want to go out and see what we’ve got up there.”
A center panel in the ceiling slid open smoothly, revealing the pure darkness of the shaft.
* * *
She’d forgotten how cold it was out here. She almost dropped back down and got herself a jacket, but nah.
As a rule, you could find yourself in the elevator shaft for a couple of different reasons.
Reason one was maintenance, although the elevators were generally self-repairing and you could do most routine maintenance from inside the car, anyway.
Reason two was that you were fucked in some major way, which she hadn’t experienced herself, but you heard stories if you lived this life long enough.
Crumpled on one corner of the roof was a large figure, humanoid at first glance. By her estimation, this figure probably qualified as fucked in some major way.
As she watched, however, the figure seemed to melt and re-form over and over, slowly cycling through possible forms, humanoid or otherwise. It was striking and weird and grotesque to watch.
“I’m going to help you,” she said as she inched toward it.
“I’m skeptical,” the thing said. It sounded like it was trying to speak while being smashed flat, as though its lungs were out of whack.
“I’m serious,” she said. “I brought first aid pills. Do those work on you?”
“Sure do,” the thing croaked.
“Where’s your mouth?” she asked. Her headlamp hadn’t successfully pinned down a face on this globular ball of mutating flesh yet.
A slithery tentacle—maybe blue, maybe green—emerged and flopped down in front of her. She reached out and dropped a pill onto it; the pill was promptly absorbed into its flesh. It suddenly seemed to gain control of its transformations with a burst of energy, and moments later, Carissa watched it resolve into the figure of a human, like herself, with pale white skin and an unnaturally thin frame; its age group and gender indeterminate.
“Taking a human form just to make me comfortable?” Carissa asked.
“Taking a human form because it’s one of three I can easily manage at the moment,” the shapeshifter said, sounding exhausted. “The other two would be … less friendly.”
Copyright © 2023 by Scott Alan Moore