The next half hour was spent in total silence. James was dumbfounded, he had no idea why the President would want him - he didn't even know how he got in this box. He just lay there thinking, wondering what had happened. Had he somehow got put in some kind of time capsule and woken up in the future? Maybe he was cryogenically frozen, like in the movies? He felt too embarrassed to ask. He thought back to the events of the last hour or so, he wasn't sure how much time had passed, he had no frame of reference.
"Kolanski was caught underneath the popsicle..." The private had been talking about him, he just knew it. "...damn popsicle crushed Karen into paste..." God, had he done that? Had he killed someone by accident?
No, it wasn't his fault. He really didn't remember any code, he didn't know. And the explosion, he hadn't caused that, someone else had blown him into the air and he had no way of controlling where he would fall. Still, he felt a terrible sense of guilt. He must know the code, how else would he have gotten in the box in the first place? The freezing must have given him amnesia. Then again, what did he know? He wasn't a scientist or a doctor... was he?
He closed his eyes tight, not that it made any difference in the pitch black interior of the box, but it helped him push out the horrible images of the woman he'd heard being crushed by an enormous coffin. He'd heard her voice, she wasn't just some stranger, she'd been trying to save him from the enemy, whoever the enemy was. And he'd crushed her. Even though it wasn't his fault, that somehow made it worse, knowing that he'd made the instrument of her death without even trying and worse, he hadn't even felt it, didn't even notice the crunching of bones or the screams of pain.
Suddenly he just wanted out, desperately. He strained against the harness, pushing the back of his head hard against the cushioning behind it and arching his back, trying to break free or loosen the bonds but nothing worked, if anything he was sure it felt tighter, like it was closing in on him, wrapping him up tighter and tighter and tighter and oh my god, he couldn't breathe! He couldn't breathe! He tried to yell out, but his vocal chords were frozen with fear. He could hear his heart thumping in his ears and then a wave of dizziness hit him, a cold feeling spreading out from his neck all the way out to his extremities. Rapidly, he felt himself becoming calmer, more composed, but it felt weird, like it wasn't him, like there was still a screaming part of him buried deep down underneath. The box, it had sedated him, given him something to stop him panicking. Was that how it was going to be? Him trapped in here forever, calm and collected, never even given a chance to be afraid, to feel anything? Would it feed him too? It must if he'd been in here for any length of time, maybe through some kind of drip. Inside he wanted to cry but on the chemical surface, he felt nothing.
"Hello, is anyone still out there?"
"Agent Garratt, sir."
"What is this thing? You called it an ACU?"
"Armoured Containment Unit. It's a powered shell that is designed to keep the occupant alive indefinitely. Virtually indestructible, sir."
"So there is a chance you might be able to cut me out?"
"Permission to speak frankly, sir."
"There has been only one successful attempt to open an ACU without the code. The occupant didn't survive the experience, sir."
"Are you sure you want to hear this, sir?"
"I'm ordering you to tell me, you have to obey my orders, right?"
"Very well, sir. First attempts were based on cutting torches. Nothing worked, the ACU conducts all heat, electricity away too quickly for it to be any use. We tried diamond saws, lasers, explosives. Nothing. The occupant remained unharmed throughout the experiments. We tried a contained nuclear explosion, nothing. The occupant reported feeling a slight force pushing down on them afterwards. Finally we tried accelerating an object to near-c by railgun and blasting it through the bottom of the unit. The casing was torn off, but the impact converted the contents into super-heated plasma as soon as it was exposed."
James felt that part of him beneath the drugs scream out again, but he remained numb. So, there was no way out of the box without the code. "So wait, you're saying you don't know how these things work? Didn't you build them?"
"No, sir. The units are beyond our engineering capabilities, sir."
"Then how would I even know the code? This doesn't make any sense!"
"The occupant of the second ACU knew the code and released themselves into our custody, sir. It's been protocol to ask for the code ever since. At first, we didn't even know there were codes or that the ACUs had occupants, sir."
"What happened to the other occupants, how many are there? How did they know the codes, how did they get in-" James, asked rapidly before getting interrupted by a thud, "-what was that?"
"Sir, I can't answer any more questions. The rest of the crew aren't authorised to hear and there is a situation brewing."
"What? What kind of situation?"
There was another thud followed by shouts and machine gun fire. There was the sound of yelling, but James couldn't make it out. The gunfire continued until James felt himself falling again. Almost as soon as he'd felt it, the motion changed suddenly, nudging him up and down as if he was on the end of a whip. Far off, he thought he heard an explosion but he didn't care.
The cold feeling just spread through his neck again and he waited, indifferent, as inside he screamed and cried and howled.