Chapter 0:

The Cold Embrace of Darkness

Ludicy - Embraced by Darkness

"Dear reader, I am writing this as penance for what I've done. I won't ask for forgiveness, only understanding. I am writing this on March 15th because I was just informed of the true purpose of the research conducted in this God-forsaken place. Back when I'd just arrived, I was excited since it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I was chosen to come to join the elite few experts working on a top-secret project, or so I thought. Oh, how gullible I was. There is no elite few, but a few thousand, at the very least. And the top-secret project? It is something far more sinister than what you might begin to imagine. They're working on a bioweapon capable of ending civilization as we know it. I pray that they fail, but if you're here and reading this, I wasn't able to stop it from happening. This is getting a bit long, so let me get my thoughts straight. If this message has reached you, They have perfected it. The fungus is already killing people, and there is no way to stop it. Breathing in more than 0.025mg of its spores, which is roughly 0.05% of the mass of dust you inhale in an hour, is enough for them to reproduce over your body's capacity to fight them off. The tricky part is, that I don't yet have the information needed to tell you how to protect yourselves. When sending this out, I will attach a series of diary entries containing everything I know about this place, Them, and the evil They've created. I wish you good luck in your fight against death. J. C."

January 2nd

This is it. I feel like I've finally made it in life. Today is my first day at the Antarctica Research Center, also referred to as ARC. All those years of studying and research were finally going to be recognized by some of the most talented people in the world. From the moment I first caught a glimpse of the facility, I've been becoming more amazed by every passing moment. The pure white scenery is truly breathtaking. The facility buildings blend in seamlessly with the snow around them. If not for the grey doors with yellow accents, you couldn't even notice it was there. A single person got sent out to welcome me, so you might say the reception was quite cold. Her name was Sarah. Didn't catch her last name though. She was likable and felt like somebody I could trust in this place, which was reassuring. We went on a tour of the facility and had some lunch after. The rest of the day was meant for me to settle into my new room. I was almost expecting to have some roommates, like in college, so I felt a bit cheated entering a sterile-looking room with nobody in there. That's also an agreeable situation. I like having my own peace, just like anyone else.

January 5th

Hello, J. C. here. I am writing this in the free apartment everyone is talking about. There is no rent, no deposit, and no hidden fees. It's constructed out of reinforced concrete, comes with a bed, which tends to get very cold, and your own private toilet, which has the same issue, seeing how it's made of metal. You also get 3 full course meals every day, although the sourcing of the ingredients is beyond me. It might be lab-grown chicken, which the cooks denied when asked about it, but as someone who lived on cup noodles and tacos until a few days ago, this feels like meals worthy of a king. Even with all those features, the single best thing about this apartment is the overwhelming sense of security. There is no way to enter this place without an invitation, and the surveillance is really tight. No people seem to be able to leave here. It is a lifetime job, after all.

January 6th

Yesterday I felt a bit homesick. It's bound to happen after the honeymoon period ends, but to expect the reality would hit me so hard... On a brighter note, now that I've been working for a few days, I can say that this place delivers on its promise of being the world's most advanced genetic research facility. Some equipment we use here is so new the outside world hasn't even caught wind of it being developed yet. It's a real shame most of it will never get past the prototype phase since it's so specialized to work done here. I would've loved playing with equipment like this back home, without any restriction, but that option's lost, as it currently stands. Most of the work up until today was helping out the logistics department. The logistics have been struggling for the past few weeks. However, I was also allowed to work on my research in my free time. Today I've had a genius breakthrough in my project of efficiently decoding and reading DNA. I realized I could apply the same methods used when working with digital data. The biggest issue faced when trying this is the decoding itself since nobody has ever decoded an entire genome before. Many have tried, but their method always ends up falling short. To get back on track, in computer science, you usually prefer working with bigger chunks of information when analyzing data because the chances of sequences overlapping are bigger. That makes it more efficient when piecing the puzzle. So I thought, why not apply that here? In theory, it should work. I'm gonna work out some math for a few days and then report my findings to the higher-ups.

January 15th

They loved it. Everyone here keeps commending me on my hard work and seems genuinely impressed with my discovery. I am also overjoyed myself. It hasn't even been 2 weeks since coming to this place, and I've already distinguished myself among the elite. I am one step closer to my ultimate goal of creating the perfect nanobots capable of fighting off disease. Once we develop a technique for implementing my discovery in practice, the only step left will be gene manipulation. I expect that to take me a few years, at least. I'm not so hot-blooded as to get arrogant over this, even though it may just be the breakthrough of the decade in biogenetics. Alright, I have to boast just a little bit. It is a big deal, after all.

January 26th

The facility's gotten increasingly busier ever since revealing my breakthrough. It seems the others are eager to make my theory a reality as soon as humanly possible. It makes me happy to see everyone working so hard just for the sake of science. Another thing is, nobody has asked me to do anything unrelated to my research for a good 2 weeks now, so I think they may like me and don't want to demotivate me. The food situation also got a bit better. I was slightly surprised the first time it happened, but now I have to fill out a checklist every morning detailing what type of meals I want to have during the day. There's another development I'd like to mention here since I can't imagine anyone ever reading this. Sarah seems interested in my research and often comes to my lab to observe and make small talk. She also asks intriguing questions about the research whenever she comes over. She seems interested in my thought process while working and my plans for using this research for gene manipulation. In the past few days, I might've begun developing feelings for Sarah. The name Sarah Connor does have a nice ring to it. I mean, there are quite a few scientists here, and a significant proportion is women. I guess it just comes with the territory of biology, but I digress. The point is, there are many agreeable women here, but Sarah has this unique charisma, almost as if it's her job to get close to people.

February 2nd

It's been a month since I first stepped inside the facility. It's almost hard to believe nobody would nag me about not going outside for a month. This really is a paradise for my kind. A week ago, I was given a week of vacation, seeing as I worked without sleep for 4 days straight. They said it was to prevent burnout. Another reason provided is that people often get new, better ideas after stepping away from work for a bit. Stepping away also provides a fresh point of view and allows the mind to use different methods when solving problems. The management here really is on another level. Nothing gets past them. I used the vacation for light gaming and movie watching, seeing as the facility has a 10gig connection. They even have consumer electronics that aren't available in the outside world. A prime example of this is the 8K 240hz QLED TVs we have set up all over the place. How are you even expected to saturate that bandwidth? There aren't even any media types supporting 8K at 240hz. And can you imagine the file size that would have? It would have a monstrous bitrate of 192 Mbps. If left uncompressed, just a single minute would amount to 11.25 GB, and an entire hour would be 675GB in size. And that's without even considering the additional file size coming from the audio, assuming you used surround audio. On another note, Sarah approached me yesterday about getting a promotion in rank. It seems I'm going to get access to even more insanely high-tech equipment.

March 14th

It's finally happening. The higher-ups have invited me to meet with them tomorrow at 2:00 PM. I suppose they want to talk about the future of my research here. They might suggest I remove myself from this project and start on something new, seeing as the others are steadily making progress in their own research using my technique. I might just accept such a deal, and once I've gathered more experience in a spectrum of other fields, it may make it easier to make progress. In another scenario, if it's proposed that I get promoted once more, that would mean I'd become the highest-ranking researcher in the facility. I'd more or less be on par with the high-ranking officials running this place. I could use that to get some more info on the facility itself. The whole thing is so shrouded in mystery, I still don't even know where the food comes from. Maybe they import it using planes, but that would be incredibly inefficient from a monetary perspective. Alternatively, if they grow it here, my lab chicken theory may not be far from the truth.

March 16th

Yesterday I attended the meeting with the high ranks. During the entire thing, I was sick to my stomach. I felt as if I'd collapse from the sheer pressure exuded by those monsters. The atmosphere was so heavy, that you'd think you were a survivor of the Hiroshima blast who managed to hold on to life just to suffer for the rest of your life while radiation sickness slowly eats away at your body and will to live. The meeting opened with an information dump about Them. They call themselves The New Order. I still can't grasp why They would reveal the following information to someone like me. They probably intend to get rid of me soon. They have cast a web upon the world, and by doing so, stuck their grubby little fingers into most of the world's government systems. They have connections to most countries in Europe, primarily Germany and France. Their influence in Asia can be felt at the top of the Indian government, most of China's meritocracy, and even in North Korea. They're in cahoots with the Secret Service and the CIA. Supposedly, They even control most of the world's drug cartels. The public leaders are just puppets. Following that weirdly specific information dump, I was led down a set of stairs. There stood a hallway longer than any I'd seen before. I followed them down it, unaware of the fact I was walking right into the jaws of darkness. At the end of the hallway, there was a door with retina scanners. They really did not want anyone but the highest ranks down there. Once the doors opened, I realized why. In front of me, there was a grand hall. By my first estimate, it was at least 7 stories deep, but that was just the floors I was able to see. It was organized in such a way that the research labs and autopsy areas were placed in the middle, connected to the balcony-styled walkways along the wall by bridges on each of the 4 sides. Carved into the walls were holding cells. I say carved, but actually, they were just titanium boxes padded with foam insulation. There must've been at least 50 holding cells in either direction, repeated on all 4 walls, totaling 400 holding cells per floor. What was inside the cells was something that deeply shook my core. They're keeping humans down there. Some of them were horribly disfigured, while others looked so pale they might've already been dead. I was told they were the test subjects for various bioweapon projects. On the floor below me were subjects infected with a variation of anthrax. Apparently, the first floor is the most significant and houses the most important sample. The research conducted on the first floor is about developing a weaponized version of an Ophiocordyceps genus fungus. The next thing They told me shattered my world. It was my research that allowed them to accelerate the research by years.

March 17th

I was given a choice. I can choose to work on developing the bioweapon, or I can become a test subject for it. I decided to work on the development. I never should've come here. At least They still treat the scientists working down there the same way they've treated me for the past few months. Since I started working in the underground, which I'm going to refer to as Hell from now on, I haven't seen Sarah once. For all I know, she might've been put inside one of those sinister boxes.

April 16th

It's been a month since I started working in Hell. The research is progressing at a frightening pace. My guess is the bioweapon will be ready for use by the end of summer. There is nothing I can do to stop it. If They notice me working less than usual, I'm as good as dead. On another hand, I'm forced to always keep up the facade of cheerfulness so the scientists aboveground wouldn't become suspicious. Most people working in Hell avoid this by moving down there. I don't want to do that. Something is telling me I should stay living aboveground.

June 1st

I saw Sarah today. She was standing in front of my old lab when I was on my way back from Hell. I thought I must've been daydreaming, but then she grabbed me and pulled me inside the lab. She said she entered my room once and saw my notes from the meeting with the higher-ups. She wants to help me warn everyone they're in danger. I suggested that in the case I fail to sabotage the bioweapon in its last stages, as I'm currently planning to do, she's going to send a flash drive containing all my notes and the contingency I had prepared to the mainland. From there, it will be easy for someone to spread it around the world using chain letters and email. Sarah accepted the proposal but said it would take some time to prepare.

August 13th

It is inevitable. There is no stopping it. The New Order has already shipped samples to their labs around the world for parallel research. They're planning to release it upon the population on September 5th, 7:00 AM GMT. I am leaving this place with Sarah tomorrow. She's finished all her preparations. I hope we make it out alive. Then maybe I can start repenting for the sin I've made by coming here.