There was the usual small talk, as the two slowly worked their way past the gun-point stage. Val told of his story of having left Halford station a little more rushed then usual and of his fathers propensity for helping the 'grounders', and of his ongoing effort, for all his intents and purposes, to become one. Zeke was mostly silent save the occasional grunt or occasional question. Most of questions, aimed to prove or disprove the other mans story. However Zeke was fairly certain he had heard of this incident. It wasn't often the station turrets were armed and even more rare that they fire at one of their own shuttles. The official story had been one of corporate espionage according to ORBA, (Orbital Broadcasting Agency ) but nothing had been reported afterwards. There had been no reports on the daring escape or the sordid past of the criminals on board. There had been no word on whether the craft had been recaptured or wether the ships occupants had escaped or were still at large. All of these stories would normally have been the sensational broadcast companies typical bread and butter the idea of being one of the few people who knew what happened gave Zeke a little thrill of pride.
"You know something kiddo, you may have some of the worst luck imaginable!" he rumbled, as Val finished his tale.
"Why is that?"
"Because folks will be looking for me as we speak, and baggin' and taggin' you will prove one hell of a bonus for them."
"Well then I'd be sorry to leave your ass in a sling, but hell, if I see any sign of these pursuers I'm dust in the wind!"
"And here I thought you were my hero."
"No, just your water boy for the first quarter."
"Quarter of what?"
"Never mind, it's a grounder thing..."
Val looked around, letting his one cybernetic eye switch to low light. He brushed sand from his hair, his pants and his shirt despite knowing he would soon be doing it again. He grimaced as he stood crouched and looked around the sandy hollow under the ditch. There were just some places sand shouldn't go he thought. As he looked below Zeke he blinked, noticing something to the left of where the dish was bolted down.
"I was wondering. What were you looking for down here? The building? A way in?"
"Right there, see the crease? Just down from that half covered ledge near the corner"
"Too dark, but I'll take your word for it, lead the way."
"Planned on it, certainly not getting behind you while you dig" Val grinned.
"You think I'm gonna drop my gun, and dig do you?"
"Yeah, you're faster, and me? Well I have no clue as to why your being hunted, or what the bounty is, so I think you're safe."
"Hmmmph, well then you show me where, and then go back up there and 'supervise'."
"Done, what do you expect to find?"
"Who knows, but this sandbox holds some secrets and I've always fancied myself a treasure hunter."
"Hoping for water, aren't you?"
"Yeah, there isn't any treasure better than that at the moment."
Val led him down and then climbed back up the sandy hill to watch. Zeke began to dig again, and it didn't take long. The door was a typical metal doorway the type often used as a fire exit in a government building. At one point it had possibly even been painted red. The only real oddity was that the door was solid metal, rather then the typical hollow construction of conventional exits. Rust would have eaten through the door in places otherwise. Zeke could tell that the door would be very heavy just by looking at it. There was a metal plate, implying a place to push but Zeke was fairly certain the stainless steel rectangle (no longer truly stainless) was just for show. The door most likely opened outwards. If it was a fire exit, it was meant to let people out and not in. Even secure areas could not afford to guard al the exits, not in case of an emergency when employees needed out. As long as the door was heavily alarmed, and only opened from the inside, it would not provide any un-authorised entrance without inside help. Zeke scratched his head. How were they going to get in?
"Hey, digger. Need any help?" called Val.
"Well, you were right, it's a door. Opens out though, not in, and there's no handle."
"Got a crowbar?"
"Yeah! In my left pocket. Wanna fish around for it? Got ball bearings too!"
"Testy, testy...." Val slid down the hill. "Let me have a look."
Val took a look, and turned back to Zeke. "Got a knife? You made me leave mine out there."
"What good's a knife going to do?"
"Well, it'll clear some sand from the creases for starters. Then we can see what the locking mechanisms look like."
"Done this before have you?"
"No. But I got an idea of how to. The door crease isn't covered. You know most of these types of doors had a metal piece....kind of a plate that covered the release mechanism.. To prevent tampering."
Val shrugged. "It looks like this one doesn't. Might be able to jimmy the release."
"It's a heavy door, and nothing to grab hold of. The knife isn't going to help that. Not enough leverage."
"One step at a time. Just wanna see if I'm right, and then we can worry about leverage. Besides, it's probably a well balanced door. Grease the hinges a bit, it might not take as much as you think."
Zeke blinked. The desert rat made sense. He had been about to give in to frustration, without even looking for a solution. He could isolate genetic code sequences in a strand of DNA, splice it to produce desired results (albeit with a margin of error that would make any subject nervous), but he had been ready to concede defeat to a simple door. God, he missed the lab. An inspiration came to him then.
"A spear! You said that you had a spear."
"Yeah. Up there. Yet another item left behind in the name of paranoia."
"Not talking stone-tipped, are we? Twine and wood or something primitive like that?"
"No....we melt metal down here. Sorry to disappoint you, big chief. Some of us can even read and write."
"Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm saying...I didn't think you carried around stone tools, I was just making sure, because a metal spear might work as a crowbar. You get the catch released, and I'll pry her open with the spear. Think there'll be a working alarm?"
"After all these years? No way." Val smiled. "Go get the spear. I ain't climbing up there for it, when you're the reason I left the stuff up there."
It was only a few moments later that a siren pierced the desert air. Val and Zeke stood looking into a dark stairwell, occasionally lit by flashing red light.
"Um...the alarm still works." said Val, a sheepish smile on his face.
"I noticed." answered Zeke. A big grin lit up on his face, exposing sharp canines. "Let's go see what else is working!"
Val couldn't help but wonder if they were going from the frying pan into the fire.
The upper levels had been breached. The Center had been found. It wasn't supposed to be found. No signals out, the doors sealed. This was his kingdom. His universe. He had the memories of hundreds to join with, to manage, to control alter, and make his. He could make it a paradise or a hell, for those he chose to visit. He had barely scratched the surface. So much to study, to understand. He'd spent so much time in the lower levels of late though. Tormenting the tormented was harder then it might seem. Nightmares had to be personal to terrify, they had to be as carefully crafted as any utopian ideal. Sometimes the only way to truly terrify was to placate, to create the same sort of ideal that had started him on his path...and then to wake the subject up. Some of his most satisfying moments had been found in such moments of enlightenment. His most loyal supporters, his most trusted sentries, were among those he had been so 'cruel' as to awaken.
Troll was but the most recent, a prize possession, despite his senility and paranoid rage, or perhaps because of it. The old man had eluded him so long, so focused on duty and 'keeping the peace'. Troll had already been conditioned, and had avoided maintenance as if it were a dereliction of duty. It was much the same as a workaholic avoiding the doctor until the heart attack hit. The man was obsessive compulsive beyond belief, and had knocked on coffins row after row for nearly a century, only hooking into the system to report when absolutely necessary. Which meant that he had to be baited. Unexpected awakenings, bodies going missing in the lower reaches, all designed to make the old man question his sanity and log on to report. Each time Troll did so, his report was questioned and his findings disputed. Each time he logged on, the old geezer was asked in the most friendly of voices, the female icon flashing the most reassuring of smiles, whether he was sure he did not wish to run deep-cognitive tests, in the comfort of cryo-sleep. The game had been long, but Johnny was nothing if not patient. And now he knew the old bastard was his, and could knock on doors to his hearts content as long as he hunted those Johnny told him to. His single-minded pursuit was a delight to see. He was slow, methodical, and though he didn't move as fast as he once had, he knew the facility like no one else. Except perhaps Rabbit.
Rabbit. Escape artist. Born to run, and run he did. He didn't know how the boy did it. The game started years ago. He wasn't supposed to still keep playing it. Rabbit was the reason Troll was needed. Rabbit was the only one who knew Johnny, who knew where he had come from, who knew that he wasn't the god he'd made himself to be. Rabbit was the only one that knew Johnny had a body, and knew where it was kept. Rabbit knew. He'd shared it. They'd been brothers, born of pain. In fact, they'd been closer than brothers until the game had begun. Until the boy had realized he no longer pulled the strings. Johnny supposed that he understood. Nothing irked him more than the lack of control, and Rabbit was part of him. Or had been. When Rabbit was confronted with the reality that he no longer held any power, he had taken the only option Johnny had presented. Run. Lead a merry chase, and blaze a path to freedom. But Rabbit had indeed escaped, and that had never been a part of the plan. Rabbit had known the stakes, and had played his hand accordingly. It was a simple plan, but effective. Rabbit had escaped the computer, and his self-created nemesis by finding the one thing Johnny possessed that Rabbit no longer had.
Like all good creation stories it began with darkness, chaos. Out of that swirling mist of oblivion came consciousness. An awareness that all was not as it had been, and that the end result was far out of sight. He was helpless in the darkness, able to only send querying thoughts out into the ether. It had begun then. A flood of light had shocked him into a screaming recognition of a world. Not the world, but a world. In confusion he looked up into a face that smiled lovingly at him as he howled. Noone smiled at him, or at least noone had. He was helpless too. He couldn't wipe that smile off her face, and at the same time, couldn't resist the sense of calm he felt in her presence. His limbs moved spastically, his bowels were not under his control and he was small. This wasn't right. Bloody hell, who was this bitch? So wrapped up was he in the contrasting confusion of feeling secure and warm, while his mind rebelled against the very idea of it, that he didn't even register surprise at the giant tit that was aiming it's way to his face. Looking for all the world as if it was about to smother him. Immediately, all doubts quelled, as the feelings of warmth and security overrode everything else......For the moment.
It went on this way for a long time, his instincts constantly rebelling against the ideas his "parents" tried to instill. He was a destructive child, despite his parents best efforts. Indeed , it was odd, how little effect tantrums had upon them. It wasn't till the year he was supposed to go to school that he managed to provoke any severe reaction.
He must have been just turning seven. Supposedly anyway. He had not told his parents that he could already read, and even write a little. Bad words had sometimes shown up in fridge magnets on occasion, leading to the odd babysitter watching him with distrust. He knew that something was wrong, not with him personally but with all of it. Dreams would come through at night with vivid clarity, his mother leaving him behind at a gas station, and not bothering with an apology, telling him that he should have stuck out his thumb and hitched....His father undoing is belt and whipping it across his palm while approaching him....things that never had happened. Or had they? He was slicing apples that day, his mother asked his help for an upcoming bake sale. His mother was in her sun dress, laughing as she spoke into the phone, tossing her hair back in a dramatic fashion that had always irked Johnny for some reason. She was talking to his principal, Mr. Atkinson. Why was she laughing like that? He wasn't funny. He was the most boring, ugly person Johnny had ever met. He didn't know why but he felt a sudden snap of rage, rage towards her, towards the man on the other side if the phone. The paring knife raised in his hands as he looked at her. He felt cold, calm, as he approached, slowly but deliberately. His arm raised, and smiled as the blade flashed a vicious downward curve...a scream, the warm splatter of blood on his face.
He was once again cutting apples, with his mother standing over him now, singing that song about the puppy in the window. Her hands were warm, reassuring on his shoulder, He found himself singing along, but as he looked at his and her reflection on the blade of the pairing knife, he caught a glimpse of his mother, her face a rictus of pain and horror, blood in her hand and hair. It was but a momentary trick of the light, he told himself.
But was it?
Similar moments presented themselves soon, along with an increase in the frequency of his dreams. Screams from his mothers bedroom, blood on his fathers fists...his father screaming obscenities at his brother, (he had a brother?) something about the boy being queer, a fucking faggot, something about being caught wearing his mothers' dress. He dreamed of a funeral then, with a casket much too small for an adult. He didn't awaken from these dreams screaming. He didn't awaken at all. He was cold, dispassionate. These thing happened. This was the world, the harsh truth of life. It was something he knew inside himself, dreams aside. He'd waited for something horrible to happen since he could remember, and was only confused when it didn't. It wasn't any wonder then, that the growing certainty of horror around the corner, horror he could anticipate but not feel, would push him to act. He was watching his father fix the brakes on the car, the wheels set aside for easy access under the vehicle. His father was asking for a wrench, and Johnny handed it to him but found himself staring at the jack holding the car safely up. "You wont hurt me." he whispered "You're not even real."
His fathers voice called form under the car "What was that Johnny? Did you say some..what the?..what the fuck are you...?"
His voice raised in alarm as Johnny kicked the jack handle and then the jack itself. His fathers feet twitched obscenely from the now drastically leaning car.
This time he was in a classroom. It looked like the class he had been in last year. "What the hell?" he muttered in consternation as the teacher called his name.
"Johnny Mathews! You are supposed to answer me when I call attendance."
Johnny looked at her squarely and said then to the collective gasp of the other students "Use your eyes, you bloody old bitch. You can see me clearly enough and if you can't, then fucking retire already!"
He was back at the bowl of apples again. The knife in his hands, he looked at his mother on the phone. "Bloody hell" he whispered to himself "This isn't real after all. You're expecting me to stab her, aren't you? You want to take me back to the beginning?"
He didn't know who he was talking to exactly, but he knew something was watching, waiting for his next move. He smiled to himself. "Think you'll have better luck next time do you?" His arm raised, but he did not step towards his mother. His lips curled in a feral little smile. "Let's play."
His wrist snapped forwards. His mother fell to the floor with a look of stunned stupidity on her face. And just as he had expected, another big jolt, and he was back at the beginning, staring at his mothers tear streaked smiling face. But he didn't cry this time, he smiled up at her knowingly. He knew the game now. And this boy could play.
The stairwell was dark, at least at first. Her eyes began to adjust a bit as they descended, and she noticed that there were lights further down, dim though they were. Perhaps the equivalent of an interior car light if comparisons were to be made. The size of the porthole style lights made her think they were intended to give off much more illumination. Perhaps an energy saving mechanism was involved. What had the representatives told her about the place? Geothermic energy? A plant deep beneath the foundation, pumping air and steam heated by the earth's core through massive turbines. Self-sustaining as the earth itself, they said. Even so, they would still have shut down unnecessary areas, for cost efficiency and all that. Otherwise they would have to replace parts every few years. Could she find a way to turn everything back on? God, she hoped so. This place would be far less frightening if it were lit, like it had been for her short tour.
Rabbit stopped suddenly as they reached the level about three flights down. It wasn't the sort of stop one made simply because one had arrived at a destination. This was the sort of stop a mouse made when sensing the hawk far above. Angela froze too. The silence was oppressive, only intensified by their shallow breaths.
"What is it?" whispered Angela, hearing nothing.
"Shhhhhhhhhhhh!" he whispered looking down and then up. Oddly he wasn't looking at the stairs but at the walls and the empty spaces uncovered by the stairs. He moved silently towards the railing and looked towards the levels below. After a moment of peering a pop was suddenly heard from the darkness below, and immediately after, a yelp from Rabbit as he scrambled back, launching himself onto he floor, turning as if attempting to grab the smooth surface. In shock, Angela saw that his face was turning red, and then that something was yanking him upright, a thin cable that was dragging him towards the edge, slowly and inexorably.
She almost froze, and could have simply watched him die, so conflicted were her feelings. She hadn't realized how disturbed she was by Rabbit, How much the bastard inhabiting her brothers body chilled her blood. She almost wanted to see the usurper fall to his death. But then she saw the panicked look on his face, a look that could have just as easily have been found on either face or personality. Michael was about to die. Her eyes darted to the wall, a familiar glass case there with a typical announcement ' In case of emergency break glass', and the admonishment below 'alarm will sound.' There was a length of hose there, but it wasn't that which called her attention. She moved quickly, a cry of anger and fear on her lips, a war cry, piercing the silence. Glass shattered as her elbows slammed through the thin plane of glass. Almost immediately the lights brightened a bit and a red light began flashing somewhere, as a voice began to chant "Fire alert! Fire Alert! Please proceed to the nearest exits." Angela had no awareness of any of this, grim determination shaping her face as she grabbed the fireman's axe hanging there, and charged, swinging hard at the taut metallic cable that pulled at her brother. A cry of strangled surprise escaped him as the cable didn't break. Indeed, Michael was yanked off his feet to slam onto his back, and began to slide much faster towards the railing, not able to offer anymore resistance than simply his weight.
"Shit!" screamed Angela running towards the railing swinging again, desperately, were the junction of the cable met with and slid over the top rail. She almost collapsed in relief to hear the sharp twang of the cable collapsing, but simultaneously was jarred alert by the vibrations through her arms, and the need to avoid the clattering axe as it bounced out of her suddenly numb hands. A shriek of rage was heard from below, and suddenly the sound of running could be heard. In desperation Angela grabbed her gasping brother and hauled him to his feet, rushing as best she could to the doorway, though uncertain it would open. Relief flooded her as it opened and she was able to pull him through. Dawning horror slackened her face as she realized that if she could open the door, then so could the murderous bastard below. She pushed back through the door diving for the axe.
She blinked in surprise, but the urgency of the situation precluded much more than that. It was a woman. The creature running up the stairs was barely human, but definitely female in form. She was sleek as a missile, with metal curves out of a Heavy Metals readers morbid fantasies. Her fingernails were blades, and the frayed edges of the metal cable that had snagged Rabbit/Micheal were evident from a protrusion on her left arm. A similar protrusion could be seen on the other arm, which was swinging now towards her as she charged up the steps. Angela swore, keeping a close eye upon the metal diva as she scrambled back towards the doorway, axe in hand. Just as she pulled the door open and was about to flee through she felt the cold bite of metal on her ankle. She dove, just as the creature tried to yank, and heard the grunt of surprise as the bitch behind her was yanked forward a bare step. However, that simple step proved to be enough, as Micheal (or Rabbit) slammed the door shut behind her, just as the creature outside yanked hard, the metal cable biting into her ankle painfully even as it jarred her foot against the shut door.
:The axe, Micheal! The axe!" cried Angela, pain making her voice shrill, reaching it out to him, unable to stand. She almost cried out in horror as he raised it above his head. There was no room to slice the cable this time.
"No! Michael, block the door! The door!"
Her brother, if it was him, blinked and understood, jamming the axe in the door handle, then quickly moving to dig at the cable around her leg, seeking the end of it to unravel. To both of their amazement the cable seemed to move, wrapping tighter, the end of the cable shifting, sliding, as the friction on her ankle began to draw blood. Angela sobbed in pain as she dug frantically, unable to get loose.
"Fuck this!" swore Rabbit, hoarsely. The bitch wasn't even trying to get through the door, no doubt relishing the fear and pain she was causing.
Blocking the door had been a good plan, but they had not counted on cybernetically controlled cables. Fucking expensive, that was. No wonder the psycho was pissed. He yanked the axe from the handle and swung it hard at the wall, as close as he could to one of the several blinking red lights that flashed, leading would be escapees to this very door. A shower of sparks flew as he took aim again, this time with the pick like end of the axe, and the line of red lights flickered again. He smiled as it snagged on a thick wire running down the wall, and he yanked hard. The lights fizzled and faded as the snagged wire came free. Taking a deep breath, careful to avoid the end of the wire, to hold only to the rubber or plastic coating, he grabbed it and aimed it, with the jerky panic of a man holding a struggling cobra, towards Angela and her captor's metal cable, releasing it over the preoccupied pair, and quickly jumping back as a screech of pain emanated from both sides of the door.
Immediately, Rabbit grabbed handle of the axe firmly and snagged the wire, yanking it back towards the wall, before grabbing Angel, and pulling her quickly back. A quick check was made, to see if she was breathing, and determining that she was, he quickly slung her over his shoulder and ran. There was no telling how long that bitch Spider would be out, but he couldn't chance waiting around. He knew her, and forgiveness was not one of the girl's virtues. If she had only been following orders before, she was certainly out for blood now.