The building where they're doing the brain scans isn't that far from campus, so it's not hard for Margaret to show up a few minutes early. She brought some homework to work on if they're not ready for her yet, but it turns out she's too excited (and maybe also nervous) to focus on Engineering Systems Design right now. She double checks the room number in the recruitment email and knocks.
Margaret gets distracted by her own legs halfway to the panel and eventually determines that she's probably taller now. Of all the weird ways to accidentally or deliberately mess up a simulated body, why that one? If it's accidental that's bad news because who knows what other parts of her world will have mistakes in them, but also maybe good news because it means the technology is probably still young and she hasn't missed a thousand years.
She does eventually get to the panel, determines that she doesn't particularly want to shut anything off, and then pulls the switch anyway because if this is a designed environment it's obvious that she's supposed to pull the switch. Maybe this is what people who run her set up so they can go do other stuff while she freaks out and get alerted once she's able to do stuff.
Maybe the switch was off to begin with, or maybe it was some kind of reset, because it freely swings from its current position, but takes a little shove to click into place in the other one. As it seats, there's a slight arcing crackle, and then lights start coming on. First, it turns out Margaret's standing next to a window, as a series of red lights in the corridor outside, then a couple overhead flood lights come on in the room she's in, and then various task lights start coming on. It reveals some kind of...work room? to her right, beside the corridor window, is a closed door with an access button glowing red, and then on the other side of the doorway is something labeled a "service console". At least ISO 9001 labeling standards are still a thing in the simulation. Or the future. Or the simulated future. Everything is metal or high-impact plastic and distinctly chunky in the way of industrial equipment designed for heavy use.
In the opposite corner from Margaret, just passed a distinctly non-industrial looking chair, the kind of stacking chair Margaret associates with a large assembly or concert in an improvised auditorium or banquet hall, are racks for six of some kind of suit, each with a racked angular helmet and a suit hanging below. Suits 05 and 06 are missing. Beside that, in the final corner and back the way Margaret came in this body with its incorrectly long legs, is a chair of the kind Munshi's lab had, but more polished. Fewer loose wires, more colored highlights, and a more compact array of server racks in the final corner linked to it by a few discrete conduits. This is that chair as a Product (tm). Somebody from the Marketing team and the Human Factors team had input in the meetings, and then Field Service got to complain a few times and...there is a stain on the floor. A red stain, just in front of the chair. And then some kind of shattered chunk of industrial robotics, in front of a shelving unit that looks right out of a McMaster catalogue. And beside that, just to Margaret's left, is a wall cubby with some kind of...thing growing out of it, like a shielded flex cable sheath an inch in diameter has forced its way out of the wall like a root and knocked some other equipment loose.
This is all very weird and kind of gross and makes no sense. Having a brain scanning chair in a virtual environment also makes no sense, but the alternative is that someone figured out how to reverse-brain-scan someone into someone else's body, which, why. Even if you scanned the original inhabitant out first, if you had somewhere else to put them why would you do the whole game of Musical Skulls. (She's not blind to the other possiblity, that she's a very elaborate murder weapon, but she doesn't want to go there without some actual reason to believe it. Hopefully the stains on the floor are not one; she doesn't feel injured anywhere.)
Whichever it is, she definitely didn't wake up in the here and now of her own accord, so someone must have done it and they must have had a reason. She starts circling the room, trying doors as she comes to them, keeping the wall on her right.
There's only the one door, the one locked beside her, that she sees.
Starting around the room counterclockwise, she passes the shelving racks, laden with a few binders and some totes full of unidentifiable spare parts. One rack's upper shelf holds a tank of some kind, with a label partially in...Japanese? Korean? Chinese? Some kind of Asian script she doesn't recognize specifically. There's a control console on one of the server racks, with industrially-ruggedized keyboard and a screen displaying the message "Automated: Unlock terminal from Service Console".
On closer inspection, the chair's got some kind of plastic cushions, like the booth of a diner. What looked like an abstract design from across the room seems to say closer up "SCX 303" and the head rest says, "Mind your head, lean back." Probably not a murder weapon, murder weapons aren't labeled for user safety.
The suit racks have a bench, apparently to sit on while you don or doff one. They look heavier than a wetsuit, more like a spacesuit? Whatever they are, they come with a helmet and special boots, and a couple terminals on sliding overhead supports would allow working on them if they weren't turned off. Behind the chair on the wall next to the service console is another electrical panel, this one closed, and bearing a warning to always wear gloves and eye protection before working on panels. The Service Console declares it is the place to service tool and cortex chips for Omnitools, and a large screen sits beside a mount for...some kind of device. Apparently it wants an Omnitool, since the screen says "Pathos II: Service Console, Insert Omnitool to Access".
Beside the service console, in the corner, is another one of those shielded cables burst through the wall, leading into a rubbery mass clinging to the wall, with some vague chunks of technical-looking metal poking out of it. It looks vaguely...Borg, or something science fictional. Directly next to the door is some kind of panel, maybe communications since it has what looks like a phone keypad and a speaker grill, and what looks like a camera lens pointed where a user would be standing at it. Under that is a fire extinguisher, and then the door and the associated locked panel next to the glass.
Okay, so she needs an omnitool to use the service console to use the terminal. She goes around the room again, looking through all the lose parts for objects shaped to fit in the service console's port. And also checks whether this suit has any pockets, because if there was ever a time for finding what you're looking for in your own pocket it's when it wasn't yours an hour ago.
She goes through the whole accessible area several times and determines that one, if there's an omnitool in here she's not going to find it, and two, this whole area is not at all what she'd expect from either a virtual environment or somewhere you would go to install a new mind in someone's brain. For one thing, it's very cluttered. For another, it's all, well, gross. Rusty and grimy and that's not even getting into whatever those cables are doing. She's pretty glad she's wearing this suit, actually, especially the gloves.
She tries yelling "Hello?" and similar a few times to see if whoever woke her up is around but apparently not. Then she tries prying open the latches on the doors with some of the metallic junk lying around. It's not breaking and entering; it's breaking and exiting.
Well that's embarrassing. On the other hand, she's not the one who locked her into a creepy empty room and wandered off somewhere. Maybe she should smash the window and get out that way.
As soon as she has that thought, some part of her becomes bizzarely confident that if she does it, someone will immediately show up to berate her for being a vandal and failing to solve the puzzle, and show her the obvious solution that was right under her helmeted nose. She does another circuit of the room, turning over every random object to see if it is, or is concealing, an omnitool or a key or a piece of paper with a riddle on it or whatever.
At least if someone shows up to berate her she'll be interacting with another living being who might know if she's in a physical body or not. And if this is all virtual then smashed glass can be repaired in an instant, and if it isn't then it probably isn't a puzzle and might, from the look of things, be some kind of emergency.
She puts the fire extinguisher through the window, then, because you might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, does it several more times until there's a big enough hole that she can get through without cutting the suit. She's gotten kind of fond of the suit.
Climbing through the broken frame takes some care, and using the chair helps, but finally Margaret's in the hallway outside what is, apparently, the "Tech Depot". A four-armed device labeled "Pneumatic Seal" is on the outside of the door--probably why it won't open. A large handle presents itself, and no one immediately comes to investigate the noise.
The hall is shortest to the left, and Margaret starts exploring that way. Just a few steps bring her to the end of the hallway. Her steps are coming less awkwardly as she moves around, perhaps from growing used to this body's other proportions or perhaps just losing it in the awkwardness of the suit. At the end of the hallway, a gated passage turns a corner and continues straight through a T-junction. The straight passage she can see down doesn't go far before it turns again--seriously, who designed this labyrinth?--but the passage to the right has a label "Thermal Plant". The gate is locked, and rattling it produces no change. The other wall of the passage has a large grating blocking entrance into some kind of machine space, with various pipes passing through some kind of vertical shaft which passes quickly behind a bulkhead above and below the deck level. The gating seems bolted closed, and is labeled with warnings about electrical components, hot pipes, and confined space permits. One of the overhead pipes is leaking, as a trickle of water flows down a wall just where the pipe penetrates the end wall.
The other way, to the right of the Tech Depot, the hallways opens up into what's almost a mall atrium. On the left (the wall opposite the tech depot) there's a short side corridor with signs for a bathroom and Break Room. On the right, there's another gated passage, also locked, and another entrance with one of the four-clawed pneumatic seals over it, this one to the "Machine Hangar". An overhead crane rail comes out of the door, and turns to the far end of the hallway/atrium, where what looked to be a wall turns out to hold a larger door with its activator panel not even red, but simply off. Where it leads is curiously unlabeled, considering everything else is clearly labeled--looking back to the tech depot, the wall next to the gate where the atrium narrows back to the initial hallway has a list of possible destinations. The "Tech Depot" and "Thermal Plant" are back down the small corridor, the "Observation Tower," "Observation Tunnel," and "Security" are through the second locked gate off the atrium, and the "Break Room" is here off the atrium.
She is still so confused about whether she's in a simulation or not. On the one hand, simulations need bathrooms even less than they need grimy walls. On the other hand, the mention of bathrooms makes her notice that she doesn't have any of the annoying internal sensations associated with having organs, and also she still isn't breathing and still can't hear her own heartbeat even though she's creeped out enough that it ought to be really loud.
Wait, hang on, if she isn't breathing how was she talking earlier? She tries it again and realizes she can hear her voice but can't feel her mouth moving. What on Earth? Maybe she's in a robot body that's set up to feel vaguely human and doesn't need to eat or breathe or use the bathroom. That would be pretty awesome, actually. She goes into the bathroom to see if it's a fully stocked bathroom or some kind of robot plumbing repair area or an empty room that nobody uses or what.
It definitely looks like a bathroom, sink and soap dispenser and a single toilet in its own stall, apparently with a bidet as there's a nozzle in the bowl and no toilet paper to be found. Above the sink is a mirror and looking back is...a suit like the ones hanging back in the Tech Depot. That shouldn't really have been a surprise, but what is are the two glowing lights in the darkness behind the glass faceplate.
The suit is expected but the lights aren't; they're not bright enough or focused enough to act as headlights. She leans in and tilts her head around, trying to see past them to see if there's a (probably unfamiliar) human face behind them or if it's entirely a robot body.
The lights appear to be signals for the locations of two cameras on a box, with the box mounted on a stick which vanishes down the neck. She tries for a few moments, and can get a view looking down the neck of the suit where there appears to be, dimly under some kind of black goo....possibly a human neck. Ick.
Shit. She's some sort of disgusting cyborg. This is the absolute worst. She feels like she ought to feel nauseous but she doesn't have that mechanism anymore (and given the givens, thank goodness for that). At least she's got this nice environment suit so she can't look at her gross horrible neck stump again on accident. Blech.
She tries washing her gloved hands in the sink; the ritual is a little comforting but not much. Now, what's in the break room? It had better not be another horrifying revelation.
The breakroom door is next to the same kind of comm panel from the Tech Depot, this one working and displaying a message "DATA BUFFER AVAILABLE". When she touches it, there's a vague falling sensation and then there's...playback in her head. Two people, one who sounds like a woman, the other who sounds like a man and might be named "Carl" though it's hard to tell with distortion at the start of the message, talk about "perma-sealing the facility" so that some kind of "they" can't get out, and setting it up so the rest of the facility can still draw power hopefully without having to come back. The pair talk about getting to a place called "Theta" safely after they leave.
Okay, she's being an idiot; this time period can run brain scans on computer hardware in real time. So if it's not just emulating each of her neurons as a black box then she's a piece of software compatible with the other software around here and the ability to open files is impressive but not separately unexplained. Sweet, telepathy! She wonders if it works for real-time communications too.
She relistens to the message again from the beginning, since she was so distracted the first time, and is thoroughly creeped out about the possibility of having been sealed in here with entities that need to not get out.
The breakroom holds few answers on entities which need to not get out, unless it's whatever came out of the open science-fiction-looking...refrigerator...thing? There's a large appliance of some kind with a snowflake on it, anyway, and some counters with a small box of curry mix, and another sink. Some people around here needed to eat at some point, anyway, so there's some real humans around, or were. The food appears to come matched with a small appliance labeled as a "Munchprint" which again sounds like Marketing was allowed to have input, but maybe to less of a worrying extent. It's like a Keurig for food printing? The boxes of food mix seem to fit into slots in the Munchprint, anyway. Beside a locker on the wall with the door, there's another one of those cable...things. This one is even larger, a good quarter meter in diameter, and where it reaches the wall it's dripping long, slow, trails of what looks like tar or used oil, which dribbles viscously into a puddle on the floor. The other part of the room holds a four-seat table, where three cups and a water bottle were left, apparently empty. A poster on one wall shows what looks for a moment like a mold stain over a pair of olive branches, before Margaret realizes the stain is just a green geometric print of some kind of complex facility in semi-transparent isometric view. It's not particularly picturesque, so why bother with such graphical fidelity? Another poster is prettier, a shot of some village on a sea coast or lake coast with docks, in a sunset. "Home is a state of mind," apparently. Looking around, she hopes the motivational poster helped with the minds of whoever lived here--it's a small touch in a fairly industrial setting.
Part of her hopes the humans are all escaped to somewhere less trashed and disgusting, but a much bigger part hopes that someone knows she's here. It seems pretty plausible that the facility on the poster is the one she's in; is it detailed enough that she can get her bearings?
Well, that's stupid. Presumably everyone who was in here on purpose knew their way around and didn't need a map, but it's very inconvenient for her.
She picks up the water bottle and cautiously pokes the dripping tentacable with it.
The cable surface gives slightly, in a way that doesn't look like plastic, more like half-cured tar. It might be made of the same stuff that's dripping out of it? It's grown around another panel on the wall, but when pulled away, the stuff that's dripped onto it from the leak doesn't seem to be doing anything. Margaret's having a hard time coming up with it other than gray goo...except it's black.
That's gross! But it didn't throw off electric arcs, or spring to life and attack her, or instantly corrode the water bottle into dust, or whatever, so it could definitely be worse.
It looks like she's learned everything there is to learn from this room, at least for now; she moves on to the Machine Hangar.
The "pneumatic seal" on the hangar door is relatively easy to remove by twisting the handle, and once loose it falls right off the door--actually, given how easily it falls off when loose, she wonders how hard it was to hang properly? Anyway, once off, the access panel switches from red to green, and she's able to get into the hangar. It's disquieting almost immediately, though for not any reason she can put her finger on. Is it a gut feeling if it's not even your guts, and they might not even be guts anymore anyway? Anyway, just inside a doorway is a spot where more of the tentacables have burst out of a computer case and wormed into a wall. Some portions it are even glowing, little white-blue nodules of light on the dark cables. It'd almost be pretty, like Christmas lights, if they weren't so creepy, lighting up a poster of a large robot of some kind, apparently a "A-95 Worker" from Haimatsu. The name is vaguely familiar, Margaret recalls hearing it mentioned at robotics conferences back before the scan when she wasn't in this simulation, or this future, or whatever she's in. In the distance, there's a few dripping sounds, and the occasional minor groan of protesting metal, like a skyscraper in a hard storm.
Ahead are tables, with what look like fancy Remote Operated Vehicles opened up on them, surrounded by shelves, toolboxes, and diagnostic equipment. Another pair of the same type hang on the wall. The far one's camera-pod "head" has swung forward and up and it looks like it's covered with the same goo as the leaks in the walls, the tentacables wound like muscle, but looking too hard at it makes Margaret's vision--and everything else--staticky. A wall divides off the other half of the space, where the overhead rail spirals up to a high ceiling to hold another several robots, including two that look more like the A-95 poster. A large wall poster has another copy of the same logo from the breakroom, this time with more text: "Pathos II: Upsilon". One of the robots looks to be connected to the wall by a solidified mass of the black gunk, with a few small lights embedded in it, but it's not wound over with tentacables. If anything, it almost looks like it's passed out, it's head and arms sprawled out and down from the boxy main chassis. It doesn't make her vision go static. In fact, she almost feels something in the back of her brain that says she wants to touch it, pulling her in?
She stays well away from the area that makes everything go staticky even though she wants to know what's doing it--she has no idea what things can injure this body and there's no sign of anyone who might be able to help repair it, so she had better just avoid anything that does the cyborg equivalent of hurt.
Ooh, what's that collapsed robot with the lights on it, she wants to touch it--wait no why would she want to touch it, that cannot possibly be a good idea--aaaaaaa shit she's already touching it.