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. After three days I was at my limit.
Tanya texted selfies between classes. I couldn’t believe I missed the halls of purgatory. She pulled faces, and cycled through the filters of every app we shared. She even stole a butt cleavage pic of the shop teacher before going silent. I cackled. At a guess they confiscated her phone, but 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 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. I wanted to see how you were doing.” We weren’t 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?”
We shared the usual small-talk about school, friends, and what I wanted to eat. Nothing real, like how I was a girl, or why Adrian would want me dead. On any other day it was insulting, but 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 get lunch together?”
I could hear the gears grind to a halt. “Er, sure. When?”
He paused. “I’m not sure I have time to make it home.”
“Then I’ll come to you. I can take the bus.”
It was a long trip to the InfiniTech labs for a kid without a car, but 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. “Fine. I’ll leave your name with security and have them let you in the gate. Call me when you get here.”
I sprung into action and threw on whatever assortment of ‘boy’ clothes were within reach. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and checked the mirror. Crash victim or not I needed to be outside.
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 played a thousand times across his imagination. His actions had become 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. With any luck their weapons would not need use. Though should violence be necessary lives were expendable in the name of progress.
He nursed a weapon in his hand and made crude measurements of its weight. The 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.
“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 did little to acknowledge the doctor as he entered.
The doors slammed shut. Dr. Fellows drew a sharp breath. This was the last resort. There would be no turning back.
People stared at the crutches. They offered to help me across the street. Seats cleared on the bus so I could sit. Drivers even slowed to offer me a ride.
The hum of public transport and my chill-out playlist blended together. They soothed my 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 college. That was where the chain link fences began. Behind it sat tiered white buildings with tinted windows. On top a copper antenna pointed to heaven. It was straight out of an old pulp sci-fi, like how my grandpa would dream the present looked.
I hobbled to the boom gate. There was only the single guard. He studied the length of me. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Alan Cade, pharma division,” I said. “He’s my dad. We’re meeting for lunch.”
“Your dad, huh.” He peered across the scene without checking his papers. He had an unwholesome sense that I couldn’t place.
“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 campus.”
I grit my teeth. “Or you could let me pass. Check the guest list.”
He didn’t. Instead he scoured the area again, sighed, and buzzed for the security gate to open. Something wasn’t right, but whatever. I could tell my Dad about it when I saw him.
The last time I visited InfiniTech was in middle school during a field trip. My Dad had only started working there, and helped guide the class through the facility. That was his way of reaching out to a son that didn’t exist. Not that I didn’t appreciate the effort.
The inside was as grand as it was in memory. Transparent levels circled up to the skylight. Lining the glass was silver and white illuminated by collective genius. It was the kind of place that convinced you that the future was hopeful.
My Dad waved from across the foyer. He was a guy 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 bother him. He was all smiles as he dashed across the floor.
“You didn’t have to come all this way,” he said.
“If I had to sit through another hour of infomercials I would 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. One thing about my Dad was that he was serious. That’s why he and Mom got along so well. That trait wasn’t hereditary.
Swaying on my crutches I flew into my next steps. Could you blame him for worrying? There was the accident, and he wasn’t exactly ignorant of what happened at school. Back in the day kids bullied him too, but for different reasons.
He gestured toward the hall. “Let’s eat. They bring in these cupcakes from a gluten free bakery. They’re so good I can’t tell the difference.” I hoped 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, but Dr. Fellows was an outsider. When his eyes met another man they would shy away or worse, glare at him, thickening the air.
The doctor leaned back and willed the passing of time. The men he’d hired were supposed to be professionals. For what he paid there would be no petty squabbles. No matter. His concern fell back to completion of the task.
Finally, they slowed. Conversation hummed through the walls. A hand smacked the outside panel and the truck moved again.
“Get ready,” said one of the grunts.
The gears shifted as the vehicle roared into drive. Every ounce gathered momentum and accelerated toward an unseen target. Dr. Theodore Fellows clutched his restraints, and counted the seconds to the inevitable.
The air split with the shattering of glass and a metal beast crashed through the foyer. My face hit the floor. The impact rattled my senses. Sounds of panic flew in every direction. Next I knew my eyes were burning, even with my father’s coat thrown over me. It was like the end of the world.
I crawled in the hope of salvation. A hand scooped under my arm and tugged toward the exit. “Stay with me,” my Dad said. Debris crunched with every movement. Sharp pain cut into my arms.
Our journey ended with the prodding of a boot. My father begged only for the gunman to shout him into submission. The coat flew from my head. There I faced with a figure in a gas mask brandishing a large firearm. His black goggles reflected like a storybook monster. He turned the barrel of the weapon against us. “Up against the wall!”
I couldn’t keep my eyes open. They burned with tears and chemicals. I followed his direction as best I could.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” the gunman said. “Heroes die in real life.”
I curled under my father’s arm and nursed the cuts. Meanwhile human shapes moved toward the elevator.
It was not their violence, but their efficiency Dr. Fellows admired. He could never say such brutes were below him after suppressing a room in seconds. They held the occupants at gunpoint. With the pull of a trigger they commanded life and death. Loathe as he was to admit the doctor could not advance without them.
He followed McVeigh and the technician through the smoke. Former colleagues writhed but failed to garner his sympathy. Were he honest with himself he might have found their suffering fair. As a man of intellect gloating was beneath him. All that mattered was the work.
The elevator took them inside. It started the descent toward the third sub-basement. When the gas cleared the three removed their masks. They inhaled the stale air of the underground.
“My equipment is in locker C-24. It is 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. He was 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 doors opened into a chiseled, subterranean chamber. Dr. Fellows sprinted down the passage with the technician at his tail. They followed the numbers on corrugated doors, odd on the left and even on the right. They came upon the promised locker.
Seconds fizzled while the technician set to work on the electronic lock. The door rolled open. It revealed a horde of technological treasures unseen by the world. These were the children of Dr. Theodore Fellows. Untested and lethal in the wrong hands they were set to reshape the course of history.
“What do we need?” the technician asked.
The doctor snapped. “You. Do not! Touch! Anything!”
He dived into the locker, and snapped up pieces which were anything but random. Leads, couplings, and other devices whose purpose only he knew. The doctor took them upon himself until both arms were heavy. Once finished he started back.
“Twenty seconds,” the technician said. “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 imagine.
I lay with my head down. The men with guns circled like vultures. They shouted us into line. It was shock and awe. They wanted to keep the fear fresh so we wouldn’t try anything. Nobody was that brave, or dense.
My Dad lay beside me and whispered encouragement. His words raced so fast I couldn’t follow. “We’re gonna be okay, we’re gonna be okay,” he said, over and again. He tried to convince me as much as himself.
The elevator doors opened, and a pair of blurs raced from them. Their armed friends leaped onto the truck. All they had to do was drive away. Freedom was so close I could taste it.
One of the men bellowed through his mask. “Move! We don’t have time!”
A shot rang out and dropped one of the attackers. I didn’t look. An arm reached around my throat and and pulled me to my feet. My balance wavered without the crutches. Fear froze in my veins. I was a doe in the headlights.
Every weapon pointed in our direction with me in middle. I stood between them, trapped, frozen and shaking.
“What the hell are you doing, Fellows?”
The barrel pressed into my temple. I started to weep. “I have other business,” he said. “Thank you for getting me this far.”
“You’re coming with us!” his ‘partner’ said.
The gunman wrenched me away. My father writhed on the ground. With each step back I lost him more. Close or not, I didn’t want a world without him.
My captor pressed a button inside the elevator. “Hardly.” The doors closed with a pleasant ding. It was followed by the sound of fists against metal. They were helpless against the betrayal.
He released me to the floor. There were cables and devices, none of which I recognized. Each appeared a custom job intended for some nefarious purpose. Why did he need me? I was a kid.
Removing his gas mask revealed an aging man with sharp features. His widow’s peak the climbed the back of his scalp. Then there were his eyes – steely grey and unblinking. He was like a sort of machine. Never had I seen a person so cold.
“Up.” The barrel of the gun nudged my shoulder. I climbed the wall. My captor’s jowls tightened. “What’s the matter with you?”
Words froze on my tongue. “I… I-I was in an accident…”
His gaze narrowed. “Can you walk?”
I nodded. There was no other choice. I didn’t expect any sympathy for a crippled hostage. Despite the pain I could hold myself. Survival was more important than recovery.
We came to an empty floor. Rows of dark windows encased blinking lights. The hairs on my arms froze in the chill. The corridor was sealed, and 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. It fed into a platform surrounding a metallic ring. It was huge, over the size of an aeroplane, and hummed with a tone that resonated in my chest. It was one of big, important reasons InfiniTech had guards and chain fences.
My captor shuffled to a console. He trained his weapon on me. “Put down the equipment.”
I did as ordered. The relief in my joints was incredible! My leg hurt free of the crushing force.
“Move to the far end and sit. If you move I will shoot you.”
Terror stilled my thoughts. It also quelled the instinct to run. As soon as he finished I could go home. For that I would follow every word.
The nameless gunman moved across the console. He opened panels and made adjustments. He stashed the weapon in his side pocket. I made sure to sit. New fittings shifted the tone of the machine. The resonating bass tone turned my stomach.
Thick, metal plates sat lumped around the work area. Wires and leads surged. They tickled the air with electricity. The hairs on my arms sizzled against the cool condensation.
Then he completed his work. He fixed something to the machine. It was a prism positioned it on a tripod.
He caught me trembling. “Don’t you dare move!”
I didn’t. I wouldn’t.
With the press of a button the machine whirred with new life. A massive wheel started to spin inside it. The freezing air churned around us. Soon it gained force enough to blow me across the floor. Lightning sparked. It curled toward the device this stranger introduced.
It pulled the air from my lungs. Instinct spurned me to move. I hesitated, but only for a moment.
A gunshot cracked over the din. My captor held his weapon drawn. He paused to take aim.
I pounced for the hall and missed the hail of shattering glass. The bullet pinged off the computer behind, causing it to spark. The console smoldered. Fire spread into the heart of the machine. Arc lightning reached toward the prism and projected upward.
An incredible light flooded the room. It was so bright that it shone through my flesh. I made the shape of the gunman. He was lost in the reaction, mesmerized, as though looking upon the divine. He didn’t see the console as it melted, and was unaware of the burning wave rolling at him.
Next I knew I was on my feet. I dived into its path. Don’t ask me why I did it. He threatened to kill me, and yet…
My body grew warm. Atoms tickled between my fingers. Then they started to jump. Into the billions they lashed out, not exploding, but accelerating toward infinity. The force threw me in every direction. At the end was a light so vast I couldn’t comprehend.
What happened to me?
Do you ever wonder what it feels like to be dead? Not to die, but the things beyond it. Your body can no longer think or act, and what remains of you lies in the 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 of a whole life viewed from outside my body. Countless moments pieced together only to trail into nothing.
The light was overwhelming. It drowned all that remained. Was I dead?
I gasped like it was my first breath. Air filled my lungs like fire. It ran like a surge to the top of my head. Dazed, numb, cold, I abandoned by whatever force cradled me in that lab. Except I was no longer in the lab.
It was night. A cool breeze washed over my face. I sat in long grass. How I’d come to be there, or how much time had passed were the last thoughts on my mind. Sensations accelerated to a thousand and left me spinning. One moment I was nothing, and then everything.
Pain coursed through my side. 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 were headlights pulling off the curb. That’s when I lost consciousness. Again.
He struck the water like a sledgehammer. Once regaining his senses he fought 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 a minute for him to collect himself and become aware of his predicament. He was cold, wet, and floating along the north end of the river. The lights of the Allison Frank Memorial Bridge shone above. The loss of time was also a concern.
Making a start for the shoreline he considered his actions. Was the experiment a success? The result was strange. He may have spared a thought for his criminal cohorts were they worthy of notice. 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 burned into his memory. As he settled they took shape. One thought compounded into another. Epiphany found him under the old steel bridge.
“I know how to do it,” he said. For the first time in a long time, Teddy Fellows smiled.
To be continued…