Authors: S. Harrison
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction
A stark-white room from ceiling to floor, no windows. A frosted-glass door in each wall, one of which has been smashed.
This place looks like some kind of empty laboratory. There are five more Drones, all seemingly inactive. One of them appears to have shut down while holding a rather husky teenage boy in a bear hug on the floor. A crying blonde girl, approximately seventeen years old, is crouching by a puddle of vomit, and over there, sitting against the wall and staring into nowhere, is Finn’s private-school roommate and my very own little computer-hacking accomplice . . . Bettina Otto.
I flick a fallen chair upright with my foot, help the boy with the damaged shoulder into it, and stride over to her. She doesn’t look very happy. In fact, her nowhere-stare looks a lot like shock to me. I tie my hair into a quick ponytail, kneel down beside her, and wave my hand in front of her face. “Hey, Otto, wakey wakey.” Her expression doesn’t change at all. I remove her glasses, make a flat palm, and, with a loud smack, backhand her across the face.
Her eyes flutter reflexively as her cheek twitches and turns a bright shade of pink, but the still semigormless glaze behind her stare tells me that I didn’t quite get through to her. I raise my hand again, right in front of her face this time, so even without her glasses, she can’t miss it. “Speak up now, or I’ll just keep smacking you around until you do.”
She blinks a few more times, a tear trickles from the corner of her eye, and she looks up at me, squinting. “Finn?” she asks croakily. I drop my hand and push her glasses back onto her nose.
“Nope, try again.”
“Infinity? Is . . . is that you?”
I give her a quick nod, help her to her feet, and grab her shoulders. “You did it, Otto. You got me into Blackstone Tech.”
“What . . . Blackstone? Oh yeah, I . . . I guess I did,” she murmurs, obviously still a bit dazed.
“Don’t be so modest; I couldn’t have done it without you.” I give her a little congratulatory punch on the arm. “Now, come on. Let’s go kill Richard Blackstone.”
Otto frowns at me with obvious apprehension. “What . . . No, I . . . I just want to go home,” she whimpers.
I grab her face by the chin. “Hey, you seem to be forgetting a couple of very important things here. Richard Blackstone used me like a slave my whole life, and the last time your sister Mariele was seen alive was when she was working at his house! We had a deal, Otto. You get me in here and help me kill that bastard, and I help you find out what happened to your sister. Remember? You’re not backing out of our little agreement, are you?”
“But . . . my classmates . . . ,” she stammers, peeling my hand away. Tears start rolling freely down her cheeks. I glance over my shoulder at them. Blondie drippy-mascara face is still sitting over there, rocking back and forth like a crazy person; bear hug boy is grunting like a warthog as he finally manages to pry himself from the stiff arms of that Drone; and the good-looking one with the brown hair is just sitting there, rubbing his shoulder and staring straight at me, like I’m the only one in the room.
“They’ll be fine,” I say. “Now, let’s go.”
I grab Otto by the wrist, but she wrenches her hand from my grip. “My classmates are dead!” she screeches.
“What the hell are you talking about? They’re right there, and they all look alive and well to me.”
“Not them! My other classmates!” she screeches. “Something happened out there in the training area. Ashley, Millie, Sherrie, and Karla. They’re all dead. Our teacher, Miss Cole, two soldiers, and a man named Colonel Brash, they were all . . . they were all murdered.”
“What?” I ask, my attention suddenly piqued. “Tell me what happened.”
“A military robot went haywire and killed them all,” Otto says, her fingers rubbing at her reddened eyes under the rims of her glasses. “Then those Drones attacked us, and now nothing is working, no one is coming to help us, and we’re trapped in here.”
“Wait a second, Otto; let me get this straight. Are you telling me that . . . Simon Brash is
She nods through her tears, and I can’t help myself. I burst out laughing. “Ha-ha ha-ha ha! Oh man! Dammit! I would have given my left arm to see that!”
I’m still snickering to myself when I notice Otto glaring at me. “It’s not funny, Infinity.”
Even though I think it’s absolutely hilarious, I force myself to pull a straight face and put a hand on Otto’s shoulder. “I know it isn’t funny, and I’m sorry about your classmates. But listen to me; they’re dead. They’re not coming back, and we still have a deal that I’m gonna hold you to. Richard Blackstone is here; I’m certain of it, and I’m not leaving until I do what I came here to do. I need you to access the computer and clear me a path through any security doors and shut down any internal defenses they might have. I’ve never been here before, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to assume that it must be like a maze, so I also need you to access a map of the layout. Can you do that for me, Otto?”
Her gaze drifts away from my face, her eyes darting from side to side in silent contemplation. When she turns back, her demeanor seems calmer, her expression blank and hard to read.
“The computer is off-line, so there won’t be any automated defenses,” she mumbles. “We’re in our school uniforms, so any soldiers we run into probably won’t shoot us. And I memorized the layout from a 3-D map I saw earlier, so I can show you where Dr. Blackstone is most likely to be.”
I smile at her. “Good.”
“But I’m not doing anything until you help me get Percy, Dean, and the Professor out of the training area.”
“What? Who the hell are they?” I blurt.
“Three people survived the military robot, and they’re trapped in Dome Two. Help me get them out, and I’ll do anything you say.”
I feel a fire burn inside. I grab Otto by the arm, and she winces with pain. “You’ll do what I say right now, or . . .”
“Hey!” shouts the brown-haired boy as Otto jerks her arm away from me. He pushes out of his chair and strides across the room toward us. “Finn, what do you think you’re doing? Leave her alone!”
“Keep out of this, boy,” I growl.
“Whoa, calm down,” he says, holding up one hand in a futile gesture of peace. “We’ve all been through a lot in a really short space of time. But there’s no need to take it out on Bit.”
“Ryan, leave it alone . . . please,” implores Otto.
“No, Bit,” he says. “She’s acting like a bully. She’s supposed to be your friend.”
“Shut your mouth and walk away, kid, or I’ll make sure you regret it,” I snarl.
“‘Kid’?” he says incredulously. “Why are you acting like this, Finn? What is going on with you?”
“This is your last warning. Call me that name one more time. I dare you.”
“Look, Finn, just tell me what’s going on, and we can . . .”
I grab his wrist and pull down hard on his arm, popping his shoulder joint right back out of its socket.
“Arrrrgh!” he screams. His legs buckle, and he crumples to the floor, clutching at his arm.
“Ryan!” Otto screeches as she drops to her knees beside him. She glares up at me. “You are a sadistic, psychopathic monster.”
I smile down at her. “I prefer the term ‘uncomplicated.’ And if you want your life to stay the same way, then I suggest you follow my orders.”
Otto slowly stands and looks me, unflinchingly, right in the eyes. Any traces of fear that were there before have been replaced by flickers of anger. “And if
don’t help me get them out of that dome, then
won’t tell you how to get rid of Finn. Once and for all.”
I study her closely, scanning her face for the slightest hint of deception. “What did you say?”
“I heard you, Infinity. I may have been a little overwhelmed for a few minutes back there, but I still know what I heard. Just before you killed that Drone, you said that you wanted to get rid of Finn. Well, I know how to do it.”
“No. Not until everyone is safe.”
I look around the room at the bunch of adolescent nobodies. “Everyone?”
“Everyone. Those are my terms. Take them or leave them.”
I glare at her, and my hands ball into fists. Either I’m losing my touch to spot a lie, or she’s telling the truth. I let out an exasperated sigh, and say a word that tastes like bitter poison on my tongue.
“OK then,” Otto says with a nod. “Now, can you please help Ryan?”
It looks like, at least for now, little-miss-bossy-pants Otto here is calling the shots. I give her one last narrow-eyed glare and then kneel by the boy. I grip the Ryan guy’s arm and, with a sharp pull, a slight reposition, and a hard push, pop his shoulder joint back into place. His head jerks back, and he groans loudly. “Here,” I say, offering him a hand. “Stand up.”
“No, thanks,” he hisses through a clenched jaw as he awkwardly gets to his feet on his own.
“Alright, then, Commander Otto.” I give her a blatantly sarcastic salute. “Let’s go find your friends.” I turn and head toward the smashed-open door, but immediately freeze in my tracks when a dull electronic bell tone suddenly rings out all around us. Over and over the bell tone chimes in a steady rhythm, once every couple of seconds. It doesn’t sound like any security alarm that I’ve ever heard—for one, it’s not very loud, and two, there’s no urgency in it. It’s just a dull, repetitive gong sound.
that?” asks the Ryan boy. Almost as soon as he utters the words, the bright light illuminating the room suddenly cuts off completely, plunging us into darkness as a terrified wail issues from Blondie’s direction. I’m about to switch to night vision when, all of a sudden, hundreds of rows of large, white numbers, letters, and symbols punch onto the walls, scrolling in random sets of gibberish from left to right, ceiling to floor, filling the whole room with an eerie white glow.
“Otto, what’s happening?” I ask.
“It . . . it looks like the computer is trying a system reboot.”
“Is that a good or a bad thing?”
She doesn’t answer me, but I can tell by the dubious expression on her face that she’s less than confident this turn of events is going to work in our favor.
The chiming bells ring on as the random group of letters begins collecting into readable chunks of half sentences and partial instructions. They begin flashing in different places all over the room, giving the already-eerie light an unnerving strobing effect. I scan the wall in front of me and manage to make out a few phrases from the jumble of flickering symbols and numbers.
None of the commands means anything significant to me. They’re just the computerized ramblings of a malfunctioning machine. At least, that’s what I think until one particular instruction flashes across the top of the wall.
Through the repeating peals of the bells, I hear the shuffling sounds of movement. I turn to see the strobing silhouettes of the Drones straightening and righting themselves as they come back online. Blondie lets out a terror-stricken shriek as the undamaged ones lying on the floor jerkily haul themselves to their feet like the reanimated corpses of zombies. Soon the five functioning Drones are all standing at attention as random symbols and numbers flit over their face masks, mirroring the haphazard bundles dancing on the walls around us.
“We need to get out of here. Before those things attack us again,” Ryan says to Otto.
“You’re right,” she replies. “It looks like they’re reconfiguring, so we’d better leave before they fully activate.”
“OK,” I say as I pull a useless shoulder satchel hanging at my side up over my head and thrust it into Otto’s arms. “Let’s go.” I head for the only open door with Otto, Ryan, and the other boy falling in step right behind me.
Blondie is still sitting on the floor, her arms hugged around her knees, her puffy eyes wide and filled with fear. “Don’t leave me!” she screeches.
“C’mon, then!” booms the husky boy.
Blondie jumps in her skin, then skitters to her feet and totters over and gets in line behind Husky as I lead the way through the shattered door and into a narrow corridor dimly lit with emergency lighting.