I think it was when my previously up-until-that-moment beautiful assistant Karen accidentally inhaled her face and features leaving nothing behind but a bloody red mass of muscle that I realised that something had gone very, very wrong.
I wasn't prepared for any of this. It was nearly 10 a.m. and I hadn't even had any coffee yet.
Unlike many of my socially awkward companions at the lab I consider myself quite well educated and familiar with the etiquette required for most situations, but take it from me there is very little that you can say or do to placate a 22 year old woman who suddenly finds herself without a face.
We both stood there awkwardly for the longest of times. The fact that she couldn't see didn't stop me feeling embarrassed, but it was clear – even with her being unable to express herself vocally, what with her complete absence of mouth – that she was in some distress.
I'm ashamed to say I left her to it - Slowly I manoeuvred around her outstretched arms and twitching fingers and made my way into the corridor.
The new Work experience lad Simon French-sounding-surname had become two dimensional and was currently sliding along the floor as though he were being projected from an unseen source. We exchanged a courteous nod in the way that only the English can do in such situations, and I headed onwards.
My initial plan was to take the lift but as it appeared to have become sentient and evil and was chewing on what remained of Linda from Procurement with huge ragged bloody metal teeth, I thought the stairs the safer option.
The stairs themselves were indeed a wiser choice albeit not one without their own set of unique dangers. My journey upstairs became a tentative game of careful timing but my keen mathematical mind quickly adapted to the patterns of which steps would be temporarily replaced with a bottomless void and when. The fading screams that echoed from within the black depths indicated that some of my colleagues had not been as lucky.
I'm really not sure how I managed the trip to the roof without losing what few marbles I was tightly clinging on to.
I remember briefly becoming fictional somewhere on the twenty-sixth floor. It tickled slightly and smelt vaguely like warm gin and wasn't in the slightest bit pleasant but with a not-inconsiderable amount of mental effort I managed to remind reality that I existed - a story for another day - and got myself out of that little existential pickle.
I passed the two directors in a corridor. They’d both become huge toadstools, one a garish green, the other a violent red, which appeared to have merged into one another - so I took a little comfort in that at least they’d found a companionship and bond with each other in death that they’d never quite achieved in life.
Floor 28 existed on a different visual wavelength to the others so I had to navigate by guesswork. I didn't dare imagine what constituted the pools of liquid and clumps of damp fibrous matter that I found myself walking through and brushing against. Especially the ones that sang to me or slowly spelled out my name with the voice of a child.
My hopes rose momentarily as I made way between floors 30 and 34 as nothing untoward happened in the slightest – Walls, floors, my five senses, gravity, the laws of physics – all operating within the normal tedious tolerable and reliable levels I expect from them on a daily basis. It was only when I emerged on floor 35 that I glanced at my watch and in dismay realised it had taken me nine months to travel five floors that I realised how wrong I’d been.
Sigma Six. It was to be the invention that would change the world. Marketing gets it right for once, I laugh.
The thing about Sigma Six – and this is the thing that seems really odd in hindsight – it nobody could really explain what it was supposed to be or do. Which only strikes me as unusual now I put my mind to it.
“Do you remember when you used to program back in the eighties?” Alex Jacks (Head of Research and Development) would ask, “and there were all these POKE commands you could do to directly set the contents of a memory cell? You’d end up setting the background colour, or causing the border to flash or just breaking everything completely. That’s what Sigma Six does. Running all the POKE commands for the universe in one go. The Command Line Interface for reality.”
“It’s what you’d get if you built the large Hadron Collider into the shape of a möbius strip”, said Harold Raymer (Assistant Head of PR) convincing absolutely nobody. He'd called it the large Hardon collider in two previous board meetings until somebody pointed out his error.
“It’s what happens if you kick God right in the balls”, elaborated Simon Pierce (Head of Special Science), eloquent and verbose as ever.
And the oddest thing about Sigma Six? I don’t seem to recall any research being made into it. It was like it – whatever it was – just sprang into existence and it just suddenly felt like it had been around forever. And then some bright spark decided to switch it on. I vaguely recall somebody saying they'd put a Post-it note on the button reading "Do not use" but this apparently hadn't been an adequate deterrent.
But the transmitter is on the roof. I think. I'm sure somebody mentioned it to me at some stage - and there certainly doesn't appear to be anybody in this building either alive or capable of putting a stop to this whole farcical situation.
When I emerge into the daylight it’s clear that the effect isn't just localised to the building. The sky is a gaudy streaked mess of orange and green and the skyline – how do I put this in terms that won’t send my brains spiralling out of my ears? – the skyline just isn't.
The transmitter stands in front of me, crudely masking-taped to a television aerial. It has a simple glowing green button marked “On”. I reach out to touch it but I'm too late – my physical form disintegrates gradually as I find myself being reduced to nothing more than an idea. And a bad idea at that. And neither good nor bad ideas can press buttons.
“Sigma activation in Five”.
Ah, right. So that’s how it is. I'm back in the lab.
I can’t help but smirk.
Karen looks at me, confusion etched upon her perfect face.
It's funny because I know she's going to inhale it any moment now.