Exploring the Institute

Karen Zipslicer Stories

In the last installment of Karen Zipslicer’s adventures in Lundern, our heroine discovered other prisoners of the Institute. Now she searches for a way out…

Nobody was about. There were no windows, nor clocks, but Karen guessed it was the middle of the night. She found a staircase and went down, exiting at the bottom level. The lights down here were dim. Karen realized this was the basement. The first room she checked was used to collect the hospital’s garbage. There was a line of large cylindrical bins on wheels, all waiting to be taken out. Karen tried to lift the roll-up metal shutters to the outside; they were locked. The next few rooms were storerooms. There was a caretaker’s room, with mops and cleaning equipment, and an unlocked locker! The overalls inside were far too baggy for Karen. But the white pumps were wearable, after Karen stuffed the toes with paper towels. They were too loose for running, but Karen was glad to wear something on her icy cold feet. Shuffling about, she next found the boiler room, and after that, the laundry…

Karen lit the laundry’s gas lamps, and looked in every closet, washing machine, and drying machine, but there was not a stitch of clean clothing to be found. Her only option was to rifle through the dirty pile, sitting in a skip beneath the laundry chute. That did not appeal, but she needed to put something on, if she intended to go outside. Her gown was far too flimsy, and disturbingly revealing at the back. “Never mind,” she said to herself. The sides of the skip rose as high as her neck. Karen reached over, but only managed to pull out some dirty sheets that lay on top. She brushed the hair from her face, then carried over a chair, to stand upon. From that height it was much easier to reach in, so she did. Karen reached in, and reached across, and put her knee on the edge of the skip so she could reach further… and before she knew it, she had kicked the chair from under her and was diving headfirst into the dirty laundry. At least it was soft, she thought, as she righted herself again. Now Karen and Whiteley were inside the skip, it was much easier to scavenge for clothes, which they did, with gusto.

Though she still worried about being discovered, Karen was pleased with her disguise. The doctor’s coat fitted her well, Whiteley was snug in its pocket without bulging too much, and she pulled the surgeon’s mask over her face. Sadly, there were no socks for her cold feet. Dressed like this, she could walk out of the front door, without anyone suspecting. Now she just had to find the front door. But then she found something better: a back door. ‘Emergency exit’ was written upon it. Underneath her mask, she smiled to herself, and walked quickly towards the door, placing both hands on the bar marked ‘push to open’…

Karen looked around. A thin man in a brilliantly white doctor’s coat stood at the opposite end of the corridor. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Karen looked left and right, but there was nobody else around. She pointed to herself.
“Yes, you. Come on, this way.” He beckoned her with one finger.
Karen had no choice; she had to go with him.
“Come on,” he repeated. He had a narrow face, with a long and pointed noise, and thinning hair scraped back across his scalp. He held a door open for Karen, who found herself in…

A really dark room. Much darker than the corridor outside. Too dark to see anything, at first. Her eyes adjusted, and as they did, she realized she was in a little cinema. The seats were almost filled with white-coated people. The film had not started. Karen froze for a second. She could not back out. The doctor stood right behind her, closing the door, then leaning in front of it. There were no spare seats along the aisle, so Karen walked, as calmly as she could, down to the front row. That way, she would not need to say ‘excuse me’ or brush past anyone. At the front row, she picked the seat furthest to the side. It was the worst possible place to watch the screen, but she planned to leave last, and sneak away then. The film started. It was black and white, covered in scratches, and the image sometimes skipped around the screen. The film featured two men who also wore white coats, each smoking a pipe. They stood in front of the camera, and spoke to it in extraordinarily posh accents.

Reginald: Hello. My name is Reginald Cuthbert-Ethelbert-Schubert-Smythe, and I’m joined by my eminent colleague and very dear friend, Sir Humphrey de Canella.
Humphrey: Hello.
Reginald: We’re sorry we can’t be there to introduce ourselves in person, but, by now, we’re both thoroughly dead.
Humphrey: Dead as a dodo, I’m afraid. Ghastly business.
Reginald: That’s right. And whilst we presently look like two hearty fellows in strapping good health, enjoying our fine pipe tobacco, always ready for a morning of vigorous country pursuits, or an evening of jolly roister-doistering around town, we can’t do that any more because we’re so very very dead, and we’re speaking to you now because we don’t want you to end up the same way.
Humphrey: Not yet.
Reginald: Quite right, Humphrey. I suppose we all have to go in the end. But you don’t want to go the way we went.
Humphrey: Rather.
Reginald: We may have been two of the leading scientific minds of our generation…
Humphrey: No doubt about it, old chum.
Reginald: …but we want to ensure you don’t make the same dreadful mistakes we did. So, on your first day working here at the world-beating Tolyens-Green Institute for Medical Science, we strongly recommend that you stay close to the guide during the orientation tour, and never stray off the beaten path. Otherwise, you might find yourself like a lamb to the slaughter, by which I mean you’ll suffer a short sharp blast of what did for us…
Humphrey: Radioactivity!
Reginald: Precisely. Whilst radioactivity has been a tremendous boon to the practice of medicine, if not treated with respect, it’ll kill you for sure, as sure as it’s going to kill poor old Humphrey.
Humphrey: Damned shame for you too, old chap.
Reginald: To summarize, follow these three steps and you’ll enjoy a long and healthy life in the employ of the Tolyens-Green Institute. First, stick to the safe areas as described during your orientation tour.
Humphrey: Second – don’t go anywhere you oughtn’t to.
Reginald: And third, don’t tell a living soul about what you’ve seen inside.
Humphrey: Pardon me, my dear fellow, but what does that last point have to do with radioactivity?
Reginald: Nothing, but I thought it worth mentioning anyway.
Humphrey: Quite right! Carry on.
Reginald: So there you have it. Be sure, be safe, and keep schtum, if you want to prosper at the Tolyens-Green Institute for Medical Science. Or if you just want to enjoy a longer life than poor old Humphrey.

There was a pause as the two men looked into the camera, smiling whilst holding their pipes in their teeth, and then Humphrey turned to Reginald and said:

Humphrey: Is the camera off yet? I thought that went bally well, if I…

And then the film suddenly stopped. The lights came on, and everyone filed out of the room. Because she had sat right at the front, Karen was now right at the back. But there was no chance to escape; the doctor who ushered her in waited for the group outside. With the whole group assembled, he introduced himself as Dr. Grieg. After doing a quick headcount, he led them around the facility. Karen had no chance to slip away, no choice but to follow.

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