Wednesday, April 22, 2015

24: Static Trail

Entry 024: Where Felix finally reaches the end of the static trail.

                Felix fell for all of 2.84 seconds before coming to a jarring stop that nearly wrenched his left arm out of its socket. If he had thought his heart was loud before, it was deafening now. He could feel it beating in every inch of his body; his fingertips, his throat, even down in the pit of his stomach it banged on, terrified.
                He hung there for a moment, the handle that had saved his life too small for his fingers to slip out of when he forgot to hold on. He remembered quick enough and with some brief flailing, he found the small bar at the bottom of the 'L' with his foot. He stepped on it and pushed himself up, managing to stand in the middle of the shaft no matter how unsteady the bar felt beneath him.
                Panting in fear, he looked over at the screen, finding it easily by the muted glow it gave off in the absolute dark. Processing it told him, Processing. Calculations complete. Traces found.
                Felix looked around as the blue scan light swept the shaft, revealing the ghosts of small sparks just like the ones it had picked up on his hand and Kla's body, traces of static they'd picked up from being in close proximity to Cor's static field. The sparks were only echoes here, and highly faded at that, but the ones beneath him were still easier to see than the ones above his head.
                "Good," Felix thought as he gently released the magnetic clamp and let gravity pull him down. "I don't think this thing could carry me up if my life depended on it." Fortunately for him, it didn't.
                He followed the line of static left behind by Cor's passage, slowing as he passed each of the closed doors that marked another floor to scan for stronger traces to show which way Ham-Hands and his friend had taken Cor after dropping Felix off on Level 7.
                After dropping three floors a resounding crack made Felix jump right off the bar. He dangled from the handle, holding tight as he looked around for weapons fire or energy projectiles.
                Wooden splinters showered down on him from above. The stool leg had broken, unable to take the elevator door's weight any longer.
                Felix breathed hard, holding so tight to the clamp that it kept him in place, unable to let the cables slide past. He tried to find the bar again so he could continue down, but his boot slipped right off again. He must have accidentally kicked it in his startled flailing and the bar had bent.
                Felix swore softly in the dark. It might hold his weight for another few seconds, but not much else. Certainly not long enough to get him down even to the next floor.
                Gritting his teeth so hard they creaked in his head, he jammed the side of his boot into the crook where the bar met the rest of the rod and hoisted himself up. He quickly keyed in another scan for Cor's static cling before the bar bent under his weight and left him dangling by the clamp handle with nothing else to stand on.
                Blue scan light swept around him again before winking out, leaving stars in his vision. Felix blinked quickly, afraid to miss the echoes of the static cling, but the stars didn't leave. It took him a moment to realize they were in fact the trail he was looking for, only down here they were brighter, fresher, much more recent than the faded ones he'd found near Level 7.
                "They must have moved Cor not that long ago," Felix thought over the beating of his heart. He didn't know why or where, he was just glad that they had. As faded as the original trail was he wasn't even sure if it would last long enough for him to get anywhere useful.
                He followed the brightest shards of static to the next level where they disappeared through the door. Vaguely he could see the orange tint of the emergency lights through the center crack, but it wasn't enough to see by. It did, however give him of an idea of where the ledge was.
                "And now for the part I never quite figured out."
                Heart in his throat, Felix jerked sideways, just enough that he felt the edge of the ledge with the toe of his boot. His sharp intake and release of breath was loud in the long, square shaft as he kicked until he got the ball of his right foot on the ledge itself.
                Even stretching as far as he could, he couldn't shift his weight over the ledge, not without losing his pocketknife altogether and if he did that he'd never find Cor. He could turn off the magnet if he managed to find the right wires, but without the magnet holding him to the cables he'd just fall all the way to the bottom of the shaft.
                "Fat lot of good I'll do Cor then," Felix bit out in his head. His head was starting to hurt from gritting his teeth so hard. He hadn't stopped since he'd gotten in here.
                "Probably gonna die in this box," Felix thought as he pried at the now useless rod with his free hand. The elevator cables were so heavy that even leaning most of his weight against them they hardly moved. "Probably gonna fall and snap my scrawny neck." He wrapped his hand around the bar, feeling for one of the telescoping joints where it would be weaker. "Tori'll never know what happened to either of us." He pressed his shoulder to the upper section of the rod to keep it straight and pulled at the part under the joint, trying to bend it at a right angle. "Kla'll probably tell Cor how stupidly I died before she kills him with poison lipstick or something." He adjusted his grip and pulled harder, feeling the metal give. "He'll hate it, but then so will she, so at least he'll die happy."
                He gave one final wrench and stopped, having no more strength to spare. He was only hanging by one arm. At first it had felt like it was on fire from all the strain. Now it just felt cold. It was going to go completely numb soon and he would lose his grip. Even the too-tight handle wouldn't keep him up here forever.
                Felix felt out the shape of the rod with his free hand. It wasn't a strict right angle, but a good two feet of the metal more or less pointed away from the elevator cables. Twisting his right foot to ensure it was still on the ledge, Felix used the now-bent rod to push himself farther away from the cables that ran down the middle of the shaft. His left arm started to feel like tiny needles were pricking into his over stretched muscles, but he could feel his weight shifting out of the empty air and over the ledge.
                When he couldn't stretch himself any farther, he tightened his grip on the clamp handle and with a jerk that broke the magnet's hold on the cable,  threw himself sideways towards the door.
                He hit the closed door and bounced, windmilling his arms to keep from falling down the dark shaft. For a precarious second, he thought he'd failed. And then, with agonizing slowness, Felix leaned forward until his chest stopped against the cold metal of the elevator doors.
                The air left his body in a whoosh and he wanted to sag in relief, but was afraid that if he did, his knees would give out and he would fall. His arms were tired and felt like water, but with all the adrenaline making him buzz, that didn't keep him from prying open the door with what was left of the metal rod.
                Felix slid through the gap and fell to the floor like a dying fish falling to the bottom of a boat. He lay there, gasping for air and covered in sweat, one leg still jammed between the doors now propped open by the bent remains of the rod.
                "This sucks," Felix gasped, not caring if the hall was empty or not, "so freakin' much."
                The rod holding the elevator open gave an ominous creak and with a surge of fear, Felix pulled his feet free and pried his contraption out of what was left of its housing. The top half of the housing had snapped off when he'd freed the clamp, but the contraption itself was still in one piece.
                "That's something at least," Felix muttered as he turned the small box over in his hands. "Though the electroshock probably would have come in handy later." He glanced at the remains of the outer casing sparking where it was caught in the doors, mangled beyond repair after all the abuse he'd put it through. "No help for it now though."
                "Hello?" A voice coming down the hall startled Felix back to his feet. "Rogers is that you?"
                A young woman wearing an assistant's plain white lab coat came around the slight bend in the hallway. She was in her early twenties, younger than Felix by a year or two. Her light brown hair was easy to make out in the dim light where it was bound up at the nape of her neck. He figured this was her first major job out of university. She was obviously scared.
                 She stopped when she saw him, startled. "Oh, sorry," she mumbled, backing away, "I know this is a restricted floor. This is my first week and I just got lost and- sorry."
                She wouldn't look at him even as Felix got closer. "S'alright," he told her, lowering his voice so it was closer to what he'd heard from Ham-Hands and the Tweedles. A thought crossed his mind as he watched her, telling himself that security guards didn't flinch away from the too-large eyes of lab assistants. "I haven't been here long either. Don't even know which way is out."
                Her eyes didn't light up like she knew either, but she did point hesitantly back the way she had just come from. "I was looking for the skywalk on this level, but I must have taken the wrong turn, which probably means it's back this way."
                Felix gave a curt nod. "Thanks," he muttered.
                He followed the nervous assistant down muffled hallways. She kept looking over her shoulder at him, just little glances that made him nervous more than anything. She always looked away when his eyes flicked towards hers. After the fifth or sixth time, Felix realized she was trying not to stare at the bruise blooming along the left side of his jaw.
                "Got in a fight last night," he told her tersely. It hurt to talk. "No one's in the building. The alarm was set off by another lab accident."
                She nodded and didn't speak, but Felix saw that some of the anxiety left her small body. "Okay," she mumbled.
                She walked quickly through the halls, Felix flinching as he tried to keep up with her, and soon they were rewarded with the sheen of natural light playing off the bend in the wall in front of them. Felix followed her until he saw the entrance to the skywalk that connected this research building to its neighbor across the street. A steady throng of people in lab coats and office garb were steadily but quickly walking through its glass doors.
                Felix stopped. "Thanks," he told the girl when she noticed. "I got to make sure the floor's clear before I leave." Then he turned around and left before she could ask any more awkward questions.

* * *

                The static trail led him down a flight of stairs enclosed by glass walls. A door at the bottom labeled it as the Security Office. On the other side, he could see a large receptionist's desk made of polished black wood. A familiar transport cylinder marked with a neon orange FRAGILE sticker leaned against the wall behind it.
                "This would be the place," Felix muttered to himself. He slipped his contraption into his pocket and straightened his stolen uniform before opening the door. With a cautious look to either side to ensure the place was empty, he jogged across the small lobby to the desk.
                There was a holographic computer screen sitting behind the tall edge of the desk, out of sight of anyone that came in through the front door. Felix all but collapsed into the empty chair, entire body aching after the trip down the elevator shaft and nearly getting his guts handed to him by the guard.
                His vision was blurry around the edges and it took him a few seconds to bring the words on the screen into focus. At least here luck was with him; whoever used this desk had left so fast they hadn't logged out before hand.
                "Hrm..." Felix hummed gutturally to himself as he scrolled down the screen. "Please be here. Please be here- Ah!"
                Cor's name popped out at him halfway down the page. "Cell five," he murmured to himself as he made to stand despite protesting muscles.
                "Hey! Hey you! What are you doing down here?"
                Felix fell back into the chair, a look like a cornered rabbit coming onto his face. Another security guard was striding towards him, a set look on his face.
                "Uh, um," Felix stumbled, jaw moving up and down as he tried to think of an excuse.
                The other man, young and impatient, went on without noticing. "That's my chair bucko. Get out before I throw you out."
                He jerked his thumb over his shoulder with a scowl and Felix rolled out of the chair, facing away so the man wouldn't seen him cringe as he put weight on his legs again.
                The man took his seat as Felix hobbled around to the front of the desk and leaned his arms on it. "Now," he said as he moved his chair forward and frowned at the screen, "why were you looking at my stuff?"
                Felix scowled at him, not needing to pretend he was annoyed. "Because I need to move a guy and you weren't here," he grumbled.
                The other guard frowned at his screen, fingers manipulating the holographic interface as he checked something. "I wasn't told of a transfer."
                "Yeah, well no one was told the underground was going to blow up today either," Felix snapped. "Just get me my guy so I can leave before this place falls down on our heads."
                From the way he paled, the other guard was just as worried about that as Felix. "Was it really that bad?" he asked, eyes flicking over what he could see of Felix's arms and shoulders.
                Felix looked down and saw he was covered with black marks and mechanical grease from the elevator shaft. That combined with the bruises on his face probably made him look like he'd been on the edges of the explosion himself.
                He snorted gently through his nose, then winced as it shifted something it shouldn't have. "Let's just say I wouldn't stick around if I were you."
                The other guard nodded then returned his eyes to the screen. "Who did you need?" he asked.
                "Coral Tan." He mispronounced Cor's name on purpose. "Or something like that."
                He waited with false patience as the man read what felt like every name on the list before finally standing up again. "Right, got him. You call your boss for the authorization code and I'll get him ready. You can take him as soon as I have it."
                "Thanks," Felix grumbled. "Great," he thought as the other man disappeared deeper into the Security Office, "where am I going to get any kind of code?"
                His eyes landed on the bright orange sticker wrapped around Cor's mystery cylinder. He had no idea what was in it, but he was willing to bet Cor hadn't dragged a pair of kitchen mitts across the known universe.
                "For both our sakes it better not be kitchen mitts," Felix thought as he dragged himself around the desk, plopped back in the chair, and tore the sticker off the cylinder lid's seam.
                "Right, I've got your guy," the other man's voice came through the door behind him as he stared at what was inside. The sound of leg shackles came with him. "So I hope you have my code. I really don't want to sit around here and wait for the sky to fall."
                He stopped when he saw Felix was not where he had left him. Standing next to him and looking more battered then when he'd last seen him, Cor slowly blinked in surprise.
                "Hey," the guy said in annoyance, "what did I tell you about sitting in my chair?" He frowned. "And what do you have back there?"
                "I honestly have no idea," Felix told him. Then he slid the stiff metalwork out of the tube and threw the first one he could get his fingers around at Cor.
                The man finally realized his danger as Cor reached up and grabbed the thing out of the air, one cuffed hand following the other. He started to dive sideways away from Cor and out of Felix's line of sight, but Cor was faster. He swung the metalwork after him and when it touched the back of his hand, the man went rigid and the smell of ozone filled Felix's nose.
                It happened faster than Felix could easily comprehend. By the time the security guard hit the floor, he was unconscious.
                Felix stared at him, and then at Cor. "What is that?"
                Cor had slid the thing onto his forearm and was twisting it into place around his wrist, quite the trick with the cuffs. Felix could see now that it wasn't various metal pieces connected together, but one continuing piece with twisting, archaic shapes cut out of a single sheet. It stretched down the entire length of his forearm, cinching at the elbow and wrist before tapering across the back of his hand and ending in a point at his middle finger.
                Cor reached a hand out for the second one and got the keys Felix had pulled off the snotty man's belt instead. "It's a vambrace, kid," he told him as he unlocked his shackles and began to fasten the second brace on his remaining arm. "At least I think that's what you lot call 'em. We use 'em to conduct our static field in a focused, electrical attack while protectin' the wearer – me – from backlash. They got other names on Hybridia, but they won't mean much to you."
                "Probably not," Felix mumbled as he leaned forward to stand. His stomach gave a sharp twist as he stood and he hissed.
                Cor was suddenly there pulling him upright by the arm. "What happened to ya?" he asked.
                "Probably the same thing that happened to you," Felix told him, noticing Cor's black eye and the way he shielded his right side more than the left.
                Cor snorted. "I've got thicker skin than you. You should see a doc to make sure they didn't break anything important."
                "Fat chance of that happening," Felix said between clenched teeth. "Now let's get out of here. There's a parking garage in the next building over and enough people leaving through the skywalk that they shouldn't notice two more, especially if they're, ugh, in security uniforms."
                Cor raised his thick eyebrows at him as Felix pulled the other uniform out from under his shirt. "Wow kid," he muttered as he took it and started to put it on over the same clothes he'd worn since they'd left Carpathia, "I gotta say I'm impressed. Didn't think you had it in ya, but ya know this won't mean much if we can't get off the planet."
                Felix grunted and leaned back against the desk. "That I wasn't able to figure out, but," he said quickly before Cor could get his head out of the shirt enough to argue, "I did finally remember a way out of the city."

< Entry 23                                                                                                                                          Entry 25 >

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