After a series of diagnostic tests, we were sent to a waiting room.
"What about our old bodies? @old noah new samuel asks. "Can you put us back in them?"
"Sorry hon. Doesn't work that way," said the lady at the desk.
We waiting in the room for what felt like an eternity. There were magazines but languages we couldn't read. There was a wall-mounted TV that only played cooking shows and we couldn't change the channel. The chairs were too uncomfortable to sleep in.
"Mr. Sterne will see you now," the lady told us, and a door buzzed open.
"It's dark, but don't worry. He likes it that way. Just keep shuffling down the corridor and you'll know when you get there."
The door buzzed shut behind us.
And then the giant floating head of Mr. Sterne appeared. He didn't look at all like we pictured. He was a giant, bulbous, bumpy head covered with long stringy hair that hung like jungle vines. Big oozy googly eyes and a giant drooly spikey mouth. And horns and pointy ears.
And when we spoke he filled the room with the most hideous, soul-wrenching screech of noise we'd ever heard, and it drove us to our knees.
WUT? U WERE EXPECTING SOMEONE TALLER?*
*translated from hideous, soul-wrenching screech language
"Do you have an appointment?" asked the woman at the desk.
She was definitely representing as a woman. A middle aged woman in comfortable office clothes, pearls, big glasses and big hair.
"Uh, no," I answered. "But Mr. Sterne said we had a special waiver? Like, a hall pass? And whenever we needed to use it -- only in emergencies of course -- then we could come up and see him. 'Anytime,' he said. So here we are! Tell him it's Olivia."
The woman at the desk didn't even look at me.
"Then the hall pass will do." She put out her hand.
"Well, it WAS an emergency, so we had to leave in a hurry and I didn't have it on me so we had to just go. Come. Here. To see him. I'm sure that if you let him know it's Olivia from the kids he visited at Alt-Psy High that he'll want to know. We share a special connection."
There was no such connection. Somebody saw what they thought was the back of his head walk into the principal's office once, and so we all had this story that it was the famous and likely mythical Mr. Sterne you read about in the archives. But here it turns out there was something to it.
"You have admitted of your own volition and free will that you were roaming the access corridors without a hall pass. I'm sorry sweetie but we're gonna have to put you through processing."
She hit a button on her keyboard and started talking into her headset.
"Yeah Ricky? I've got a group of seven juveniles that just came through the Sector B Subcluster with no papers. Gonna need your help."
"Roger that" said the tiny voice coming out of her earphones.
"So, I think it's clear this operation has been burned."
The rest of the Olds Network mumbled in agreement. We had gathered on landing 47782 on stairwell 9-A64, which was painted in giant letters on the wall.
"After being buzzed out, we were placed in deep cover lives in adjacent realities. We weren't even supposed to realize it--"
"Yeah till YOU came along and woke us up," @Danny Krista Wong
"No, no, she's right," said @Max Vermilion
. "There were problems with the inserts. They were covering it up. I saw reports."
"And if you're like me," I continued, "you can feel something inside you. Some ONE inside you."
"The original host personality," Max said.
"Exactly. We're sharing their brains, after all."
Everyone was silent.
"What's going to happen to us?" @Wm. Bethany Patton
"As long as we stay in the access shafts, the original personalities seem to remain subdued. At least mine has. Sometimes I'll start daydreaming and realize I'm thinking their thoughts, but as soon as I notice it it goes away," I said.
"So we're stuck in these endless stairwells between realities? For eternity?" @Danny Krista Wong
"I want to go back," @Jonononathan Riggs
said. "I mean, back to my insert. It was pretty darn comfortable. And safe. I had a mansion, and a security system..."
"Nobody's going back. We were stood up, don't you see? This whole thing was a shoddy scam. We'd all be having nervous breakdowns inside of a year."
"So what are we supposed to do?" asked @Sabrina Duncan
"We find Mr. Sterne," I said.