Wednesday, April 15, 2015

23: Black Out Break Out


Entry 023: Which ends with Felix falling down an elevator shaft.


                The inevitable explosion came at four o'clock the next afternoon, strong enough that the power failed immediately and volatile enough that Felix and Redford felt it eight stories up.
                Felix slammed into the side of the 3D printer, his elbow cracking the selection screen and getting scratched up on the splintered edges. Even expecting the thunderous sound and the earthquake-worthy repercussions, he was still surprised by the ringing in his ears. He really hoped he hadn't overestimated how much damage the building itself could stand up to, or cracked his skull too hard on the corner of the printer.
                "What was that?" Redford squawked from the floor where the explosion had thrown him clear off his stool. There was a moment of muffled swearing as he wrestled his comm. unit out of his pocket and flicked it on. "Czarchy! What's going on down there?"
                Felix reached up a shaky hand and felt his temple where he'd hit the printer as he listened to Czarchy's reply. No blood came away on his fingers, but a definite bump was already forming. Across the comm. line Czarchy's voice was weakened by a mix of static, smoke, and shaken nerves. "I – koff! – I don't know. I think- I think it came from Testing Lab 4."
                In the filtered light still coming through the UV protected windows, Felix saw Redford's eyes just about pop out of his head. "Statton and Mazar's diafyllis gas experiment?" His voice was a screech by the end.
                Felix flinched. Diafyllis gas had a lot of potential as an alternative fuel source in that a very little went a very long way. Unfortunately it also had a lot of potential as a military grade explosive. Felix didn't keep up with such things, but he'd bet his nonexistent pay check that various militant organizations (official or not) were running their own tests on the stuff.
                "And none of them has anything to do with fuel economy."
                That's why he'd palmed the order for unsealing agent no. 3 when he saw it sticking out of the corner of one of Redford's files. It was a common enough substance in any lab that worked with chemicals, but left outside of a secure environment the liquid agent would become a gas that ate its way through any kind of untreated rubber, like the hard seals used to contain diafyllis.
                "And the insulation used to coat live wires. Once that was out of the way all it would take is the inevitable spark and- well, we just felt how that story ends."
                Redford was still shouting into his comm. "Czarchy," he kept saying with fractured patience, "Czarchy. Czarchy! Quit panicking and get people out of the underground. Look just- would you- I'll handle the backup power generators just get those labs clear."
                He closed the line without waiting for an answer and jerked a thumb at the Tweedles standing near the door, both looking up at the ceiling as if they were afraid it would come down around their heads any second.
                "You two, quit staring at the ceiling tiles and come with me," Redford snapped at them. "I'll need your help to manually activate the gas repression system down in the labs, but first we have to make sure the backup power is turned off."
                He ordered them with enough authority that they actually hesitated. "But-” Tweedle One tried to argue with him.
                Redford reached out and actually grabbed the burly man by the collar. He was a full head shorter than the security man and dragged him down so he was stooped over. It would have been comical if Felix hadn't still felt reverberations shaking up through the floor. "Listen you muscle headed idiot. That unsealing agent ruined the delivery system down in the labs that'll take the gas out of the air, and if we don't start it up manually and the backup power throws off even one teeny tiny spark, the whole underground will go up like an old timey powder keg. Now I can't do both at the same time so get moving or I'll tie a flare around your neck and send you down alone, got it?"
                Felix hadn't seen either of the Tweedles so pale before. He actually grinned as the bigger man nodded his head like a bobble head and stuttered out an agreement. It was almost as funny as Redford looking stern.
                "Right." Redford let go of the security man. "Now come on. We'll have to take the stairs since the elevators won't be running in this black out. It'll take longer."
                He was already sprinting out the door as he spoke, Tweedle One following him dutifully.
                Felix tried to follow them, a part of him thinking they might be too distracted to notice him slip away with them, but a heavy hand stopped him in his tracks.
                "Don't even think about it," Tweedle Two told him, shoving him back a few feet. "I got orders from O'Dowell himself that you're not to leave this room even if the building comes down around your ears." His smile was all teeth. "Maybe if I'm lucky it will."
                Felix glowered at his back as the other man left, following Redford and his partner. He snapped orders at the two original guards standing outside not to leave this door or he'd serve them up to Kla on a silver platter when she got back. The door closed behind him and bounced against the jam, lock refusing to engage because of the power outage.
                For the first time since he'd gotten here, Felix was alone in the lab.
                He took off the lab coat they'd given him and tossed it on the floor. Heart pounding in his chest, he started pulling bits and pieces of metal laced with brightly colored wires extending from the edges out from under his collar, behind his belt buckled, the hems of his pant legs, anywhere they would fit without being seen.
                It took him less than two minutes to connect them, the wires either snapping into place or being twisted together to complete the various circuits. The different pieces formed a rectangular casing that reminded Felix of an old handheld Game Boy with an empty space where the screen would be. His little contraption – the only one with a power source – came last, fitting into the hole with a small click as everything aligned. Felix turned it over and twisted the last wire into place, jerking his hand back with a hiss as power flowed, giving him a smart shock.
                He was vaguely aware he was muttering to himself as he waited for the newly assembled electronic pocketknife to power up. With an 8-bit game console ba-bing!, the screen came alive with muted light.
                Felix felt a grim sense of accomplishment fill him as he uncovered the two charged points sitting at the top of the housing he'd slipped his contraption into, like a battery pack. There wasn't much power and he'd have to wait a few minutes for it to charge up again.
                "Only enough charge for one of them then," Felix thought with a frown. He looked around the room. No weapons had materialized in the last ten minutes and all the machinery heavy enough to be used as one was bolted down or too heavy to lift by himself.
                "Going out the window won't work either. Even if I could break them by myself Cor would still be in here somewhere. It'll be easier to get him out from the inside rather than going out and coming back in. Maybe if I could get some help from the outside..."
                He shook his head.  That was no good. Even if he knew who to contact, he didn't have a safe way to do so. Not with O'Dowell having his fingers in every pie on Terrace.
                "Which brings me back to my original problem," Felix realized.
                He looked around again, hoping for inspiration. "If I can't use any of this, then maybe a piece of something...?"
                His dark eyes returned to the 3D printer he'd accidentally broken when he'd been thrown into it by the force of the explosion in the subterranean laboratories. If he could use one of the screen shards as a knife...
                He cringed away from the idea. "I want out," he thought, "I don't want to kill them."
                He crossed the room towards Redford's stool instead. Like him, it hadn't survived the fallout of the explosion unscathed. One of the legs was cracked in half and another had been torn out of its notch like someone had yanked it right out. As long as his arm and tapered like a baseball bat, it would have to do.
                Felix picked it up and swung it a few times to get used to the weight. It didn't feel heavy enough to knock out a big man...
                "Well have you got any better ideas?" he asked himself.
                Felix knew that he didn't.
                He made his way silently to the door, heart pounding so loud in his ears he was afraid they heard him coming anyway, even knowing logically that they couldn't. With the lock tucked safely into the door and the hinges well oiled, the door itself made no sound as he opened it just enough to see out of. The two men that had stood outside the lab since they'd brought him hear were still there, their backs to him. Their shoulders were tense, but their attention was focused outward as they worried more about the building than the desperate man trapped behind them.
                Felix eased the door closed. His hands were shaking. His heart was beating so fast he felt like he'd been running all day.
                "Now or never," he said without speaking. He felt like he was talking to a scared animal rather than himself. "If you don't do this now you never will so suck it up and do it. C'mon. Do it. Do it now!"
                Feeling stupid rather than brave, he listened to himself. He opened the door just enough to get his arm through and jabbed the charged diodes of his machine into the closest man's arm. The contact points released their charge before he even realized Felix was there. He gave a shriek as the weak battery assaulted him with just enough electricity to send him under without killing him and he slumped to the floor as his fingers twitched and his eyes rolled to the back of his head so that only the white showed past his partially open lids.
                "What the-” the other man started to say. He had just enough time to see Felix through the half open door before Felix slammed it into his shoulder, making him stumble.
                The other guard was quick to react though. He caught his balance as Felix ran through the open door, swinging the makeshift bat wildly and hitting nothing. He'd never been good at baseball. Now he remembered why. He could even remember when he'd closed his eyes.
                The man avoided the worst of the swings easily, taking a clipped one to the shoulder so he could close the gap between them with a punch that caught Felix right in the jaw. The younger man saw lights so bright he thought the power must have come back on as he hit the wall behind him. Fortunately he broke his fall with his upper back rather than his head.
                He nearly threw up when the guard kicked in him the stomach, his steel-toed boots definitely making an impression on Felix's internals. Felix slumped over with a sick gurgle, missing the second kick by sheer luck as he curled up on the floor.
                The guard cursed as his foot met unforgiving wall and he fell forward. Felix scrambled away, one arm still holding his middle as if he was afraid it would stay behind if he let go. He'd dropped the bat when he'd taken the punch to the face and now he focused in on it, the edges of his vision becoming a tunnel until it was the only thing he could see.
                He grabbed it just as the guard grabbed him by the back of his shirt and hauled him back towards him. The tunnel wheeled in Felix's vision but he clung to that bat like it was the only thing keeping him from pitching down into the gaping darkness.
                "Shoulda known this had something to do with you!" The guard's words were distorted in Felix's hearing as the man shook him, but they lost none of their anger. "You know how much trouble you're going to be in when I tell Director Kla about this? She's gonna string you and up by your thumbs and make you write with your feet!"
                Even with his brain shaken around until it felt like gelatin, Felix couldn't keep his mouth shut. "That'll be something to see. Didn't know I was that talented."
                The guard shook him again, so distracted he didn't realize Felix had the bat again until he jabbed it backwards into the other man's ribcage.
                He dropped Felix on impact and the younger man managed to land on his feet, even if he was bent over. Unable to think clearly, Felix spun around with a yell, swinging the bat into the man's side. He doubled over. Felix raised the bat over his head and, by some miracle, brought it down hard at the base of his opponent's neck where it met his shoulder.
                He crumpled to the floor like a rag doll. Felix stood over him, breathing hard, eyes too wide in his head. His brain felt like it was being sloshed around in his skull, and he felt sick and dizzy.
                He dropped the bat without thinking, leaving it to roll on the floor of the hallway. It was dark, he finally noticed, only parallel strings of emergency lights running along the base of the walls adding light to the enclosed space.
                By their dim light, Felix leaned against the wall, not able to even see straight. Gingerly, he touched his jaw where the other man had struck him. It hurt to even think about it and for some reason his tongue felt unusually large in his mouth.
                He wanted to curl up right there on the floor and just wait for someone to find him, even if it turned out to be Kla. "This- this is too hard," he thought as he stared at the two unconscious men. "I barely made it out the door. How am I going to make it out of the building? I can't do this." He realized. "I just- I just can't do this."
                But he didn't have a choice. Not if he ever wanted to be free of these people. Not if he ever wanted to see Tori or Cor again or go anywhere without having to worry about people ambushing him. He realized that too, and something about his lack of choice gave him strength. At least enough to drag the two unconscious men back into the lab.
                He wrestled them out of their security uniforms and tied their wrists and ankles together with lengths of connecting wire that he stretched under the 3D printer, hoping it was too heavy for them to move together. Felix was covered in sweat by the end, but he still remembered to stumble across the lab and grab the broken end of the other stool leg. Once he was outside in the hall, he slid it through the door's handle, effectively locking the two guards inside.
                Safe from them, even if they woke up, Felix quickly changed into the smaller of the two uniforms. It was still two sizes too big, although tucking the extra uniform inside his shirt helped a little and his belt managed to keep the oversized pants up.
                Redford had been right about the elevators shutting down, but Felix had planned for that. Using the stool leg and some muscle he hadn't known he had, he leveraged the heavy doors open. At least they weren't locked shut like he had feared.
                He propped open the doors with the leg and poked his head through, hoping it didn't break before he was on one side or the other.
                The shaft stretched into the dark beneath him, seeming to go on forever into the dark. Unlike the lab and the hall, there was no light down here, not even the little emergency running lights like in the hall because what purpose would they serve in here?
                Somehow the near pitch dark didn't frighten him as much as the thought of the broken stool leg breaking even further and the heavy elevator doors crushing his skull like a watermelon. Felix squirmed free of the doors, trying to dislodge the horrible scene that thought presented, and readied his pocketknife. He'd already covered the diodes , but he still managed to shock himself when he disconnected them from the power and plugged a new line in their place.
                He slid a long steel bar out of the side of the housing containing the diodes. It telescoped out of itself until it stretched from his upper arm down to his feet. Down at the end, Felix flicked a small bar out, making the thing look like an elongated 'L'.
                Felix eyed it before moving on. It didn't look exceedingly sturdy, but it should still hold his weight, at least in theory.
                "Wish I'd had more time to test that theory," he thought as he freed the clamp handle that sat at the top of the 'L', opposite the small bar. He slipped his fingers through the handle. It was a tight fit, but there was just enough room for all four fingers, the handle resting against his knuckles.
                By the glow of the emergency lights in the hall, Felix checked that the electricity was indeed flowing from the contraption's battery to the special stretch of metal on the inside of the clamp, magnetizing it. It was, and from the way he felt it pull his hand toward the elevator door nearby, it was working even better than he had hoped.
                With nothing left to do, he thumbed on the screen of the contraption. The familiar words Run program [Y = mx + b] Y or N greeted him.
                He underscored the Y and hit accept.
                As the contraption crunched through the data he'd collected from himself and Kla, Felix slipped through the elevator doors and balanced himself on the slight inside edge. He toed the line, the sound of his heart thudding in his ears filling the claustrophobic space. Gripping the clamp's handle with white fingers, he leaned as far forward as he dared, arm holding the magnetic strip stretched out as far as he could reach.
                The cables running through the elevator shaft swayed, sensing the pull of the magnet. Felix reached farther, holding onto the elevator door behind him to try and keep himself on the ledge. It bought him another few inches. The cables were bent in his direction now, trying to reach him as desperately as he them.
                He adjusted his hold on the door so that just his fingertips held to it. The thick cables bowed farther.
                And then Felix slipped. With a sharp cry he fell forward as he lost his grip on the door. The abyss of the shaft zoomed toward him, eager to swallow him down its gullet.



< Entry 22                                                                                                                                         Entry 24 >

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