The blackness squeezed in around Iris, and a dull, aching panic set in. She couldn’t get out. For nine hours, she couldn’t get out. She had to stay here.
In this cage.
Quiet. So, so quiet. Nothing beyond the walls. Just quiet. Just endless time. Never . . . never in her life had she felt so isolated.
She sank to the floor and crossed her legs, set her water bottle next to her.
A soreness rose in her throat, and she swallowed. The soreness tightened into a sting.
The machine made sounds.
Sounds that frightened her.
From beyond the walls came an eerie, drawn-out moan, almost like wind howling in slow motion. The sounds of time itself, stretching out and warping. Going backwards.
She hated the sounds.
Her hands dipped into her pocket and came out with her cell phone, which she clicked on. The home screen flashed to life, blinding her for a moment.
Light! . . . dazzling light.
She swept her phone around the interior of the Chronos, illuminating the molded plastic interior, the lonely corners, a subpanel, all caked with dust. Except for the floor.
Black plastic gleamed underneath her, recently scrubbed.
She entered her passcode and thumbed through the apps on her home screen, then opened a game—Mine Explorer.
Time to explore some mines . . .
Eight seconds later, she was bored again.
Zero bars of service displayed at the top of her phone. Big surprise. She navigated to the settings and switched to airplane mode, so it wouldn’t drain the battery searching for a network.
Then she had nothing else to do.
Her phone read 8:17 p.m., still keeping time off its internal clock.
Only eight hours and fifty-eight minutes left.
She sighed and pocketed the phone, licked her dry lips, then reached for her water—
Wait. Not yet. She already felt like she had to pee. Better not push her luck.
She set her water back down and pulled her knees up to her chest, closed her eyes.
As her slow, shallow breathing wore on, her thoughts turned to oxygen, releasing a surge of anxiety. Her eyelids sprang open.
What if she ran out of air?
The Chronos—a volume six feet by three feet by three feet—contained fifty-four cubic feet of air. She remembered from her biology class that in a sealed room, high carbon dioxide levels would asphyxiate a person before low oxygen would.
She also remembered an average human breathed out half a cubic foot of CO2 per hour, and that concentrations of seven to ten percent could cause suffocation.
So that meant . . .
In nine hours, her respiration would increase the volume of CO2 to four and a half cubic feet out of fifty-four—just a little over eight percent.
She’d have to hold her breath.
Should have thought of that before, moron.
All at once her lungs constricted, like she’d been dunked in cold water. Her diaphragm heaved, but pulled in nothing, stiffened by panic. She couldn’t get enough air. She was going to suffocate in here . . .
She forced herself to relax, forced her lungs to open, to take slow, calming breaths. She had enough air. If she relaxed her body and didn’t panic, she could make it through the nine hours. There was enough air.She would be fine.
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