A single pinprick of light softened the muggy darkness down the road at the edge of town, growing brighter as it approached. It stood out stronger than the dim street lamps lining the sidewalk—one might wonder whether anyone had ever bothered to change the light bulbs in them after they had initially been installed who knew how many years ago. High above, the full moon hung in the sky like a glowing white lantern.
The traveling light on the ground became the flickering headlamp of an ancient, dented pick-up truck that emerged from the soupy night. It may once have been blue but the paint had long since chipped or rusted away, and it looked as if it shouldn't be able to stand on its four wheels let alone drive. The truck crawled to the side of the road and jerked to a shuddering stop.
"This is as far outta my way as I can go," the stick-thin driver of said truck stated around a mouthful of gum. "You'll be okay?"
The woman sitting next to him gave a brief nod and awkwardly unbuckled her seatbelt around the large, cumbersome-looking box she held clutched in her lap. Before opening the door, she managed a grateful smile at the driver as a silent way of thanking him. The smile, stilted and pulling sideways, betrayed the fact that she wasn't used to doing it. He seemed to understand.
"No problem," he said with a dip of his head. "And good luck." The man turned, peering out the driver-side window at the surrounding city with an uneasy look. "I've heard weird things about this town. Don't come here much. But…" He once again turned his gaze to the woman and cracked a grin of his own. "You seem like you've got a good head on your shoulders. You'll be fine."
The woman's mouth tightened (perhaps in another attempt at a smile) and she slid out of the car at last. The driver gave a slight wave before pulling away once more, the truck's one remaining headlight winking as if it threatened to go out at any time. All signs of the truck were swallowed up by the dark almost immediately.
The air was heavy and humid and felt almost suffocating when inhaled. The woman, still clasping the strange cube—although the strain it produced due to its weight was obvious—straightened up and took in her surroundings with narrowed blue-gray eyes. Her long, dark hair, streaked with silvery gray in a few places despite her youth, was pulled back from her face in a sloppy ponytail. Her eyes were bright and focused, contrasting completely with her gaunt face. Physically, she looked underfed and exhausted, as evidenced by the dark violet circles beneath her eyes. She looked frail, although if someone had told her that they likely would have woken up by the side of the road with a new lump on their head.
The odd orange jumpsuit and white tank top she wore were grubby and tattered while her stark white and black boots, with curved metal springs in the backs that kept her on perpetual tiptoe, were scuffed and discolored around the bottoms from their contact with all manner of chemicals and toxins. The cube she held was in even worse shape than she was. It may have been white at some point, or light gray, with pink hearts painted on each side. Now it was dirty, chipped, and charred as if someone had left it in a fire.
Nevertheless, the woman's entire body radiated an air of confidence. Anyone could tell from a mere glance that she was much stronger than she might appear and wouldn't hesitate to confirm that theory should the need arise.
From where she stood, just by the light of the street lamps sprinkled along the sidewalk and the overall feeling of relief she felt, she could tell that this town held no resonating echoes of That Place. None, unlike every other city she had passed through. The buildings here were blocky and unconventional with circular portholes for windows, and just downright ugly in appearance. Nothing like the crisp, sterile test chambers she had been forced to navigate only days ago. Everything within her sight at the moment was grungy and stained. The well-kept areas of That Place (when not overrun by nature) had always been pristine and smelling faintly of chemicals. The woman found herself actually welcoming this new change, even through the slight disgust that rose up in her at the appalling state of the area. Anywhere was better than the facility.
Her sharply-tuned ears picked up the sounds of the city—a city bustling with people. Other humans. Not robots, not AIs, humans. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath through her nose. What she inhaled was choked with smog and hints of the smell of greasy meat cooking somewhere. Her stomach churned out a low growl and her eyes slid open again. First order of business, to GET AWAY, had been completed for now. Second order of business: See about getting food, though she had no money. Then she could hopefully find a place to stay for the rest of the night.
Before she could take a single step her eyes strayed to the sky and locked on the moon shining high above. It was the same full moon that had saved her life mere hours ago.
"Oh, brilliant, yeah. Take one more look at your precious human moon. Because it cannot help you now!"
The unbidden memory jarred her to the marrow and she gave a violent shudder. Her fingernails scraped against the cube and she gritted her teeth, hard, pain shooting through her gums. No. No, she couldn't let the memories affect her. She was free from that place, finally free… The one thing she had worked towards for so long, freedom—it was finally within her grasp, and she was going to seize it. That Place would haunt her forever. She knew that, accepted it, although she was by no means cheered by the idea. She would never forget the events that had taken place there. The facility contained all she had ever known. Remnants of it would follow her wherever she went—but now was a time for her to start over.
Of course, she wouldn't be able to do anything more tonight. Not with the moon directly overhead, gazing down at the Earth with its surface marked to resemble a human face with an apparent expression of dismay. She stared at it for a moment longer. The man in the moon, she mused, if only to distract her mind. It was the first time she had seen it. This would be the first time for her to see a lot of things...
At last she tore her gaze away. Making sure to keep her back to the moon, taking in short breaths that had suddenly turned a bit shaky, she started toward the city and a new life.