Imagine being on vacation, except there’s nobody around, and you’re stuck in a single room. Such was life on the sofa, nursing the aftermath of the accident. There were only so many chat shows and soap operas I could endure before going insane, and after three days I was at my limit.
Tanya texted selfies between classes, which almost made me miss the halls of teenage purgatory. She pulled faces, cycled through the filters of every app we shared, and stole a butt cleavage pic of the shop teacher before going silent. They probably confiscated her phone, but with me cackling against the cushions her sacrifice was not in vain.
It was sometime around eleven when boredom set. There were still finals to take, so I could have used the time to study, but none of it would stick; my mind was outside, somewhere far, far away.
The phone rang, thank the gods. I hopped like a clown on a pogo-stick, and all but dived for the receiver. “Hello?”
My Dad chirped from the other end. “Hey, kid. Just wanted to see how you were holding up.” We might not have been close, but it was good to hear him; heck, it was good to hear anybody who could talk back.
I hobbled to the sofa and tumbled over the back. “Yeah, fine,” I lied.
“You manage to get much work done?”
It was the usual smalltalk of school, friends, and what I wanted to eat; nothing real, like why I wanted to be a girl, or why a guy like Adrian would want me dead. I might have been insulted if it wasn’t so normal, and even a dull conversation was a lifesaver.
He was mid-way through an anecdote about one of the lab assistants when a thought crossed my mind. “Hey, um, Dad. Do you want to maybe get lunch together?”
I could hear the gears grind to a halt on the other end. “Er, sure. When?”
He paused. “I’m not sure I have time to make it home and back…”
“Then I’ll come to you. I can take the bus.”
It was a long trip to the InfiniTech labs, especially for a kid without a car, but it was worth it for the freedom. Besides, the Lovin’ Spoonful was only a short distance away, and I was always welcome, even in boy mode.
Dad sighed. “I don’t know. The last time you were out by yourself-”
“It’s the middle of the day,” I said.
I rolled my eyes. “These crutches aren’t for show.”
He clicked his tongue. There was no stopping me, and he knew it. “Fine. I’ll leave your name with security and have them let you in the gate. Call me when you get here.”
I’d barely hung up before springing into action, threw on whatever assortment of ‘boy’ clothes were within reach, and pulled my hair back into a ponytail. Crash victim or no, nothing was keeping me trapped inside.
* * * *
The hour was upon them, and Dr. Theodore Fellows was still with anticipation. His heart beat at a steady rhythm, wrangled by controlled breathing. Every step had played a thousand times across his imagination so that his actions might be automatic. Soon he would not have to think; only do.
McVeigh and his people were ready to do their part. They had trucks, and they had guns, just as they promised; with any luck their weapons would not require use. Should violence be necessary, however, lives were expendable in the name of progress.
He nursed a weapon in his hand, and made crude measurements of its weight. The simple six barrel pistol was by no means exotic, but even in the hands of one with no experience it was a threat. Theodore tucked it away in the pocket of his coveralls, and steeled himself.
“Ready when you are, doc.”
Three men other than himself climbed from the dock into the back of the truck. Two nursed automatic rifles, and the other a tool belt with specialized equipment. They sat rigid and alert, and barely acknowledged the doctor while McVeigh ushered him inside.
The heavy doors slammed shut, and Dr. Fellows drew a sharp breath. This was the last resort, from which there was no turning back.
* * * *
People turned at the sight of my crutches; they offered to help me across the street, seats were cleared on the bus so I could sit, even drivers slowed down to offer me a ride.
The hum of public transport and my chillout playlist blended together to soothe the lingering anxiety. It was good to be out of the house where things were halfway back to normal. Too bad I was stuck in boy mode.
It seemed like no time before reaching InfiniTech labs. It was the last stop sat at the edge of the university where the chain link fences began. Behind it were tiered white buildings with tinted windows and a copper antenna pointing to heaven. It was almost like something out of an old pulp sci-fi, like my grandpa would have dreamed the present looked like.
I hobbled to the boom gate where there was only the single guard. Weird, but whatever.
He looked me up and down. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Alan Cade, pharma division,” I said. “He’s my dad. We’re supposed to be meeting for lunch.”
“Your dad, huh.” He scanned the area, not even looking at the papers in front of him. There was something unwholesome about the guy, something I couldn’t put my finger on.
“Listen, you shouldn’t be here,” the guard said. “Why don’t you go back the way you came? I bet there’s a lot of good places that do coffee on the campus.”
I grit my teeth. “Or you could just let me in. Check the guest list.”
That was the last thing he did. Instead he scanned the area, sighed, and buzzed for the security gate to open. Something didn’t feel right, but I shrugged it off. It was something I could talk to my Dad about when I saw him.
* * * *
The last time I visited InfiniTech was in middle school during a field trip. My Dad had only just started working there, and helped guide the class through the facility. That was his way of reaching out, I guess; trying to connect with a son that didn’t exist. Not that I didn’t appreciate the effort.
The inside was just as large and as lively as it was in memory, with transparent levels circling up to the skylight. Lining the glass was silver and white, as though illuminated by the collective genius within. It was the kind of place that convinced you that in spite of everything the future was hopeful.
My father waved from across the foyer. He was someone who matched his job description; gangly, with glasses and thinning blond hair. The lab coat suited him more than any other attempts he made at fashion, but it didn’t seem to bother him too much. He was all smiles as he dashed across the floor.
“You really didn’t have to come all this way,” he said.
“Are you kidding? If I had to sit through another hour of infomercials I might have killed myself.”
His expression soured. “Please don’t say things like that.”
“Dad, it was a joke.”
“I know what you meant, son, but sometimes it’s not a joke,” he said. If there was one thing you could say about my Dad was that he was serious; maybe that’s why he and Mom got along so well. I guess that trait wasn’t hereditary.
Swaying on my crutches, I flew into my next steps. Could I really blame him for worrying? There was the accident, and he wasn’t exactly ignorant of what school was like. As things went he was bullied too, though for different reasons.
He forced a smile, and gestured toward the hall. “Come on. Let’s eat. They bring in these cupcakes from a gluten free bakery. They’re so good I can’t tell the difference.” With any luck the cupcakes would save us from more awkwardness.
* * * *
Their journey was silent from the warehouse until their destination. Four men sat two by two, strapped facing each other along the walls of the truck. Of their number three had an understanding; Dr. Fellows, however, was an outsider. When his eyes met another man they would shy away or worse, glare at him, thickening the air around.
The doctor leaned back, closed his eyes, and willed the passing of time. The men he’d hired were supposed to be professionals. For what he’d paid there would be no petty squabbles. In the end his only concern was completing the task.
Finally, they slowed. Muted conversation hummed through the walls. A hand smacked the outside panel twice, and the truck moved again.
“Get ready,” muttered one of the grunts.
The gears shifted as the vehicle roared into drive. Every ounce gathered momentum as they accelerated toward an unseen target. Dr. Theodore Fellows clutched his restraints, and counted the seconds toward the inevitable.
* * * *
The air split with the shattering of glass, and a metal beast roared across the foyer. My face hit the floor and rattled my senses. Sounds of panic flew in every direction. Next I knew the air was thick and my eyes were burning, even with my father’s coat thrown over me. It was like the end of the world, and all I could do was crawl.
A hand scooped under my arm, and tugged toward the exit. “Stay with me,” my Dad choked. My chest wound until frozen, and I wasn’t about to argue. Debris crunched with every movement, and cut into my arms, though the pain was nothing compared to what waited for us.
Was I cursed? It was like some cruel god was set on making us suffer; not just me, but everyone around. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse.
What seemed like a hundred mile journey ended with the prodding of a boot. My father pleaded, but was silenced with barking. The coat flew from my head, and I was faced with a figure in black wearing a gas mask and brandishing a large firearm. His black goggles reflected back like a storybook monster that swallowed children whole.
He turned the barrel of the weapon against us, and roared. “Up against the wall!”
I could barely keep my eyes open through burning tears, but followed his directions as best I could manage. It was like something from an action movie; you know, the kind of thing that doesn’t happen in real life.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” the gunman said. “Heroes die in real life.”
Being a hero was the last thing on my mind. I curled under my father’s arm and nursed the pain. From where I sat I could barely make out the shapes moving toward the elevator.
* * * *
It was not their violence, but their efficiency that Dr. Fellows admired. How could he ever say such brutes were below him after suppressing a room in seconds? They held the occupants at gunpoint, and with the pull of a trigger commanded life and death. Loathe as he was to admit, the doctor could not have advanced so far without them.
He followed McVeigh and the technician through the smoke and to the elevator. Former colleagues wailed, and they writhed, but failed to garner his sympathy. Were he honest with himself he might have found their suffering to be just. However, as a man of intellect, he was positioned in such a way that he was above gloating; all that mattered was the work.
The elevator took them inside, and started the descent toward the third sub-basement. When the gas cleared the three removed their masks, and breathed the stale air of the underground.
“My equipment is in locker C-24, one hundred and ninety meters north-west of our access point,” the doctor said. It was hard-won information from an acquaintance of twenty years; one who tolerated Fellows, and whom he tolerated in turn.
McVeigh frowned. “And you’ve got ninety seconds to get it. Prepare to move.”
The moment the doors opened into a chiseled, subterranean chamber Dr. Fellows began to sprint, with the technician trailing close behind. They followed the numbers on corrugated doors, odd on the left and even on the right, until they came upon the promised locker.
Seconds fizzled while the technician set to work on the electronic lock, earning him the ire of the doctor. Should anything be left behind due to the constraints placed by time his fury would boil over, possibly at the cost of a man’s life.
Finally the door rolled open, revealing a horde of technological treasures the world might not have seen for decades to come. These were the children of Dr. Theodore Fellows, and while they might have been untested and lethal in the wrong hands they were set to reshape the course of human history.
“What do we need?” the technician asked.
The doctor snapped. “You. Do not! Touch! Anything!”
He practically dived into the locker, and snapped up pieces which were anything but random; leads, couplings, and other devices whose purpose could not be known from a cursory glance. The doctor took them upon himself until both arms were heavy, and when he was done started back without a word.
“Twenty seconds,” the technician muttered. “You sure you don’t need a hand with that?”
Dr. Fellows was resolute as he moved toward the exit. His mind was somewhere else; further than any of his cohorts might ever imagine.
* * * *
I lay there with my head down for longer than I could count. The men with guns circled like vultures and shouted over us; it was shock and awe, keeping the fear fresh so we wouldn’t try anything. Nobody would ever be that brave, or dense.
My Dad lay beside me, and whispered encouragement, I think. His words raced so fast I could barely follow. “We’re gonna be okay, we’re gonna be okay,” he said, over and over. He was probably trying trying to convince me as much as he was himself.
The elevator doors opened, and a pair of blurs raced out. Their armed friends practically skipped to the back of the truck. Finally, they were leaving! All they had to do was drive away, and freedom would be ours again.
One of the men bellowed through his mask. “Move! We don’t have time!”
A single shot exploded overhead, and put one of the attackers down. I wouldn’t have dared to look, until an arm reached around my throat, and with a heavy pull drew me to my feet. My balance wavered, and still would have without the injuries. Fear froze in my veins, and I was a doe in the headlights.
Every weapon was raised in our direction, with me playing human shield. Was I meant to resist? My tendons pulled tight until I was a statue.
“What the hell are you doing, Fellows?” the nearest roared.
The barrel pressed into my temple, and I started to weep; not that it bothered my captor any. “I have unfinished business,” he said, making sure to enunciate through the mask. “Thank you for getting me this far.”
“You’re coming with us!” his ‘partner’ said.
I watched my father writhe on the ground as I was wrenched away. Each step back was like losing him. Close or not, it was hard to imagine a world without him. If only I could have reached out, maybe there would still be hope.
My captor pressed a button inside the elevator. “Hardly.” The doors closed with a pleasant ding, followed soon after by the helpless sound of fists. I was suddenly certain then I wouldn’t last the hour.
He released me, and I fell to the floor. There were cables and devices, none of which I recognized; probably custom, and definitely intended for something nefarious. What did he need me for? I was just some kid.
Removing his gas mask revealed an aging man with sharp features, and a widow’s peak the climbed the back of his scalp. Then there were his eyes; steely grey, and unblinking, as though he were some sort of machine. Never could I have imagined person so cold.
“Up.” The barrel of the gun nudged my shoulder, prompting me to climb the wall. My captor’s jowls tightened. “What’s the matter with you?”
Words froze on my tongue, and broke as they fell out. “I… I-I was in an accident…”
His gaze narrowed like a vice. “Can you walk?”
I nodded, because there was no other choice. I didn’t expect him to have sympathy for a crippled hostage. Despite the pain I could hold myself, barely. Survival was more important than recovery.
We came to an empty floor with rows of dark windows with blinking lights behind them. The hairs on my arms froze on end from the chill. The corridor was sealed, and maybe ran the length of a football field.
The old man instructed me at gunpoint to gather the pieces and carry them. I hobbled as best I could manage. I wasn’t strong, and I wasn’t brave; he could have ended me at any moment.
At the end of the path was a chamber feeding along a platform surrounding a large ring. It was huge, maybe the size of an aeroplane, and hummed monotonously in a way I wasn’t supposed to understand. It was big, important, and probably the reason InfiniTech had guards and chain fences.
My captor shuffled to a nearby console, and trained his weapon on me. “Put down the equipment.”
I did as I was told. Gods, the relief in my joints was incredible. My leg burned, free to hurt openly without the crushing force to fight against.
“Now, move to the far end, and sit. If you move, I will shoot you.”
Terror stilled my thoughts and quelled the instinct to run. Honestly, it probably saved my life. I held to the hope that as soon as he was done I could go home. So long as I had that I would follow every word.
The nameless gunman moved back and forth across the console, opening panels and making adjustments. He stashed the weapon in his side pocket, but I made sure to sit. New fittings shifted the tone of the machine, and resonated with a bass tone that turned my stomach.
Thick, metal plates sat lumped around his work area; plates that would have protected anyone not in a hurry. Wires and leads surged, tickling the air with electricity. The hairs on my arms sizzled against the cool condensation.
Finally, his work was done. He fixed something to the machine; some kind of prism, and positioned it on a tripod.
He caught sight of me trembling, and roared. “Don’t you dare move!”
I hadn’t; I wouldn’t.
With the press of a button the machine whirred with new life, as though some massive wheel started to spin inside it. The freezing air churned around us, soon with force enough to blow me across the floor. Lightning sparked, and curled toward this device the stranger had introduced.
It pulled the air from my lungs. Instinct screamed at me to move, and after a moment’s hesitation I did. This place was beyond a weak high school kid like me.
A gunshot cracked over the din of the machine, and my captor held his weapon drawn. He paused, but only long enough to take aim.
I pounced for the hall, only just out of step with the bullet that shattered glass. It pinged off the computer behind it, and sparked furiously. Suddenly, the console behind it began to smolder, and spread into the heart of the machine. Arc lightning continued to reach toward the prism, and projected upward.
An incredible light flooded the room, so bright that it shone through my flesh. I could barely make out the shape of the gunman, whose gaze was lost in the reaction, mesmerized, as though looking upon the divine. He didn’t see the console as it melted, and couldn’t have been aware of the burning wave that came at him.
Next I knew I was on my feet, and dived into its path. I don’t know why I did it. Moments before he’d threatened to kill me, and yet…
My body grew warm. Atoms tickled between my fingers, then they started to jump. One by one and into the billions they lashed out, not exploding, but accelerating toward infinity; and there I was, thrown in every direction. At the end was a light so vast I could barely comprehend, and then nothing.
What happened to me?
* * * *
Do you ever wonder what it feels like to be dead? Not to die, but the things beyond it; when your body can no longer think or act, and what remains of you is wholly abstract. How do you think it feels?
I thought back to a time before I was born, and drew the same blank; unawareness, coupled with indifference, peace without joy or sorrow. And yet there was memory and a whole life viewed from the outside. Countless moments pieced together, only to trail into nothingness.
The light was overwhelming, and drowned whatever remained. Was I really dead?
Suddenly I gasped, and drew breath like it was my first. Air filled my lungs like fire, and ran like a surge to the top of my head. I was dazed, numb, and cold, abandoned by whatever supernatural force cradled me in that lab; except I was no longer in the lab.
I was outside. It was night. A cool breeze washed over my face. I was sitting in long grass. How I’d come to be there, or how much time had passed were the last thoughts on my mind. Sensations were ramped to a thousand, and left me spinning. One moment I was nothing, and then everything.
Pain coursed through my side. Along with my body came the old injuries. I had to crawl toward the sound of traffic. Somewhere between the road and shock I started to cry.
“Please… help me… you’ve got to… help me…”
Last I saw was a set of headlights pulling off the curb. That’s when I lost consciousness. Again.
* * * *
He struck the water like a sledgehammer, and once he regained his senses fought his way back to the surface. Dr. Theodore Fellows, a man who’d fallen from heaven’s grace, clawed for the sky, and a way back to that divine light.
It took all of a minute for him to collect his senses, and to be aware of his predicament. He was cold, wet, and floating along the northern end of the river, under the lights of the Allison Frank Memorial Bridge. Equally concerning was the loss of time, as it was night.
After making a start for the shoreline he considered the consequences of his actions. Was the experiment a success, in spite of the strange result? He may have spared a thought for his criminal cohorts were they worthy of him. After the event it seemed doubtful their relationship could continue.
The doctor trudged through the muddy bank and to a gravel path. The things he had seen were burned into his memory, and as he settled they took shape. One thought compounded into another, until epiphany found him under the old steel bridge.
“I know how to do it,” he whispered. For the first time in a long time, Teddy Fellows smiled.
To be continued…