Authors: S. Harrison
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction
A disheveled, school-uniformed teenage boy comes storming toward us from the other end of the corridor.
“I couldn’t open the door. I tried, but I couldn’t smash it,” he says through adrenaline-quickened breaths.
“Is it made of glass, like the other doors are?” I ask. He replies with a nod.
I scoop up a handful of shattered glass pebbles from the floor of the corridor and push past the boy. “Hey, watch it, Finn!” he barks, and the sound of
makes my skin crawl. I resist the urge to turn back, fishhook his mouth with my finger, and crack open the glass door with his head. If the idea I have in mind doesn’t work, then it might be an option worth considering.
In the dim light, I see the door a few meters up ahead. A white chair with a cracked leg is lying beside it. Glass can be strong and weak at the same time. It can withstand a lot of heavy blows with a blunt instrument like that chair, but a sharp pressure or impact can do much more damage. I stride toward the door and whip my arm with blinding speed, baseball-pitching the glass fragments toward it as hard as I can. The fragments spackle the frosted glass like shotgun pellets, and the whole door shatters completely, dropping in a tumbling curtain of jagged glass pebbles that whooshes in a wave down over my shoes. Beyond the door is a small room with grating on the floor and another door of frosted glass on the opposite side. I gather up some freshly made ninja rocks and repeat my little trick. The second door shatters just as easily, and I march through the closet-size room into some kind of weird crystalline hallway.
“Otto!” I call over my shoulder as I gather some more of these handy pebbles and drop them into the breast pocket of my shirt.
“I’m here,” she says, crunching through the glass and appearing beside me. “Can you call me ‘Bit,’ please, Infinity?” she asks me. “It’s weird when you call me by my last name.”
I look down at her freckle-peppered button nose and those big, brown, defenseless-baby-rabbit eyes.
“No,” I say. Her bunny eyes narrow and throw daggers at me.
“Where do we go from here? Left or right?” I ask.
Otto looks up and down the hallway, if you can really call it that. It looks more like a makeshift passage that’s been roughly carved through a cave made of diamonds. “I don’t know,” she replies.
“I thought you had a map memorized?”
“I do,” she insists. “I know where every building and structure is on the
. But we’re one level underground. If we were on the other side of the clean room, I’d probably be able to get us back to the elevator, but this isn’t the door that the Drone brought you and I through, ah . . . I mean, me and . . . you know what I mean,” she says sheepishly.
“Shut up. I know what you mean,” I say.
“We can go back through and try my door?” suggests Otto.
“We might not need to,” I reply. I turn around and survey the miserable excuses for civilians that are standing behind me. They’re looking sorrier for themselves than a bunch of toothless vampires at a bloodsucking contest. Well, all except for the Ryan kid. He’s eyeballing me with a fierce intensity. I eyeball him right back, and he shifts his glance angrily to one side.
“Listen up. Which one of you came in through this door? It had a big number two written on it.”
The husky kid starts snickering to himself. “Number two,” he mutters under his breath.
“You think this is funny?” I ask, staring straight at him. “Your classmates are dead, you could be next, and you’re standing there grinning like a juvenile idiot.”
He frowns at me. “What is up with you, Finn? I used to think you were alright, but now you’re acting like a dick.”
I smile sarcastically, shove Ryan out of the way, and, with a quick swing of my arm, back-fist the husky kid square in the face with a satisfying smack. Not hard enough to break anything, but just hard enough to send a message.
“Arrrrgh!” he exclaims as he stumbles backward, grabbing his nose with both hands.
“Hey!” shouts Blondie. The boy from the corridor glances at Husky, then glares angrily at me. He lunges at me, his top lip curled in a snarl. I swat his clawed hand away and jab two fingers into the hollow of his neck. Eyes wide and grabbing at his throat, he drops to his knees and one hand, like a three-legged dog, gagging for a breath. Ryan backs away and looks from me to the other boys and back again.
“You’re not the girl I met this morning. Not even close,” says Ryan. “Who the hell
“I told you before, and now I’m telling the rest of you,” I say, raising a finger at Blondie, Ryan, and the husky kid. “Finn is gone. My name is
They all look at me like I’ve lost my mind.
“Is that clear?” I ask menacingly.
The husky boy gives a muffled grunt that sounds vaguely like a “yes,” the kid on the ground moans a reluctant agreement, and Blondie’s head jiggles up and down.
“Good. Now, I figure she’s not going to let me leave you here by yourselves,” I say, jutting a thumb over my shoulder at Otto. “So as long as you don’t ask me any stupid questions and do what I say, I’m sure we’ll all get along just famously.”
“We’re going to find Dean and the Professor and Percy,” Otto announces to the ragtag group. “Then we’re gonna find a way out of here.”
“I wanna go right now!” screeches Blondie.
“We’re not leaving until . . . ,” says Otto, but I raise a hand and cut her off.
“Be my guest,” I say to Blondie. “If you know how to get upstairs, lead the way.”
The blonde girl glowers at me. “Fine. I will then,” she snipes as she pushes past Ryan. She turns to the right and struts angrily down the passageway.
“Wait for us,” Ryan calls after her. He skims a wary side glance at me and turns to Otto. “Bit, you coming?” She nods, sidles past me, and they head off together as Husky helps his friend up from the floor.
“You’re a psycho,” the boy hisses.
I look him in the eyes and smile. “What’s your name?” I ask.
He gives his husky friend a bemused look. “You . . . you know very well what my name is,” he rasps.
I shrug my shoulders. “Nope, nothing’s coming to mind. I must have forgotten it.”
“What are you playing at?” he whispers, leering at me.
“I’m not playing,” I say.
“It’s . . . Brent,” he says with a frown, obviously insulted. “Brent Fairchild.” He stands straight, puffs out his chest, smooths his shirt collar, and looks down his nose at me. “And it’s a name you’re going to regret you ever heard.”
“Oh, I already do,” I say. He gives me vicious sneer as I turn and walk off down the hall, smiling to myself.
The passageway is long, and the emergency lighting emanating from the walls is dim, but I can see the backs of Ryan and Otto up ahead. I follow behind, keeping my distance. Ryan is hunched toward Otto, whispering. I turn my head slightly and tune my hearing in their direction. The chiming bells are still ringing, and the walls themselves have a quiet hum coming from them, but I filter and sort the sounds as much as I can until I find what I’m searching for. Ryan’s voice is soft and secretive, but with a little focus, I can hear it quite well. I amplify the microfrequencies reflecting from the curved crystalline walls, but even if I couldn’t hear what he’s saying, it doesn’t take a genius to guess what he’s talking about.
“So, are you saying that Finn has got some kind of multiple personality disorder?” he whispers.
“Something like that,” says Otto. “And you better get used to calling her ‘Infinity.’ If you know what’s good for you,” she warns him.
“And this ‘Infinity’ is her other personality?” he asks.
I see Otto give Ryan a little nod.
“She’s the total opposite of Finn. Like, she’s a completely different person,” he says.
“Well, if she was the same, it wouldn’t be an alternate personality, now, would it?” Otto whispers snarkily.
“No, what I mean is, it’s more than just the way she acts. She’s strong, too. Really strong. The way she broke those doors so easily was . . . And I saw her put her arm right through that Drone like it was made of cardboard. How is that even possible?”
“Trust me, Ryan; the less you know about Infinity, the better,” whispers Otto. “Right now, all you need to know is that she’s going to help us find Percy, Dean, and the Professor.”
“What did you mean when you told her that you could get rid of Finn?” asks Ryan.
“What are you talking about?” replies Otto.
“I was lying on the ground right beside you when you said it.”
Otto peeks back over her shoulder. She sees me watching her and gives me a nervous smile.
“Stop asking so many questions,” she whispers. “Let’s just concentrate on finding the others, OK?”
“I also heard her talking about helping you find your sister? What was that about? Is your sister missing or something? Is she here? Oh, and why did the hacker who took control of that mechanoid want to kill Infinity?”
“Ryan!” says Otto, and not in a whisper, either.
Ryan seems to get the message as they walk on, turning a corner up ahead in silence. I follow, round the corner, down another short passage, around one more turn, and into a short hallway with a dead end. There, standing beside what appears to be a flat white wall is Blondie, arms crossed on her chest, lips pursed, sporting a glare that could curdle milk.
Ryan and Otto join her, and I arrive at the wall shortly after.
“I told you I knew where it was,” Blondie says snidely.
“Great. But how do we open it?” asks Ryan.
“You could try pressing the button on the wall behind you,” I say.
Ryan looks over his shoulder at the small, white, rectangular panel with a single button on it as Blondie pipes up again. “I already tried it,” she whines. “It doesn’t work.”
Ryan turns anyway and presses his thumb to the button as if Blondie hadn’t said a thing. Nothing happens. “I told you,” she snaps at him.
“Dammit!” barks Ryan, and he slams the button with the pad of his fist.
The constant bell chimes suddenly stop.
“Did I do that?” Ryan asks, looking toward the curved ceiling of the passage.
The murky emergency lighting brightens like someone has twisted a dimmer knob all the way up, and the quiet hum coming from the walls rises in volume along with the light until it’s nearly three times louder than it was before.
“I don’t think so,” Otto says, curiously scanning the walls. “Systems must be coming back online.”
“Try the button again,” I say.
Blondie doesn’t need to be told twice; she shoves Ryan to the side and lunges, jabbing at the button with her pink-manicured fingertips. Nothing happens. “Oh, come on!” she wails, tapping furiously at the button like a deranged blonde woodpecker. Somewhere between ten and twenty pecks, the button suddenly turns an encouraging shade of bright yellow, and a row of large, green, upward-pointing arrows appears, scrolling in a moving stripe up the length of the smooth white wall that has now clearly presented itself as an elevator door. Judging by the arrows, I can only assume the lift is coming up to this level from below. I’m suddenly curious about what surprises might be kept farther beneath this place. After all, even in my limited experience, it seems to me that Richard Blackstone is quite fond of keeping all sorts of things buried.
“Yes! Oh, thank god!” exclaims Blondie. By the way she’s making little clapping movements with her hands in front of her face, I can tell that she can barely contain her excitement at the prospect of a closer step toward freedom. We’re waiting for only ten seconds or so when the elevator arrives with a happy-sounding ping.
The large door swiftly slides sideways into the wall, and Blondie’s short-lived joy is obliterated as she lets loose a high-pitched shriek. There, standing before us in all their silver-hooded glory, filling the entire elevator car, are
more Drones. That in itself is an unpleasant surprise, but it’s made even worse as I take in these Drones’ specific dimensions: they’re much taller, broad shouldered, with large arms and legs, V-shaped torsos, and three thick fingers and a thumb on each hand for increased grip pressure and strength. I’ve studied every kind of current robotic technology there is, classified
unclassified. The Drones back in the white room were advanced a couple of years ahead of the service robots available to the public, but they were still only service robots. They had no armor and were only two or three times stronger than an average human being. But these, dressed like the gymnast spacemen they might be, are entirely different beasts. I’ve only seen proposed schematics of these things—they’re not supposed to be in production for another twelve months—but the shape of their reinforced chassis, short necks, and dog-jointed lower legs are unmistakable. These are Crimson-Class Military Combat Drones. They were designed for warfare, are most likely at least seven times stronger than a human, and, if the data I saw was accurate, they’re sure to be programmed with multiple forms of extremely effective and potentially fatal hand-to-hand combat subroutines. If these things see us as a threat . . . we’re in big, big trouble. Even a Vermillion-Class weapon like me would be forced to retreat in an unarmed standoff against eight Crimsons.
“These guys don’t look like they should be messed with,” says Ryan.
“No, but they also don’t seem to be active yet,” says Otto.
The Drones are just standing there, motionless, their black face masks blank and unresponsive.
“What should we do?” asks Otto.
“Get in with them,” I say. “Before they switch on, get in, and we’ll take this lift up to ground level. Quickly!”
“There isn’t enough room for all of us to fit,” says Ryan. “We’ll have to move them.”
“They look like they weigh a ton,” says Otto.
“Out of my way,” I say as I push between Ryan and Otto. Since they’re well over two meters tall, I have to reach, but I manage to grab one of the Drones by the back of the neck and try to haul it off balance. It teeters and rocks; then, with my last effort, the burly robot slowly topples forward. Otto wasn’t far wrong; they’re heavy as hell. I jump out of the way as the Drone falls and slams loudly onto the floor with the force of a falling refrigerator. I step into its vacant space and shove at the back of the next one in line.