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Authors: S. Harrison

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction

Infinity Rises (9 page)

BOOK: Infinity Rises
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I scream out in frustration as I shuffle backward across the floor in panic, fumbling to retreat from the reddening blur of frenetic movement in front of me. My hand hits the toilet bowl, and I scramble onto it. I’m grabbed by the collar of my shirt, and I scream again, all sense of my combat training lost as pure, irrational, survival instinct erupts inside me. I grasp my attacker’s hand, and even though I know what I’m about to do won’t help at all, I do it anyway . . . I bite.

There’s a guttural scream and the coppery tang of human blood. I release my jaw in surprise as I’m hauled upward. Half realizing and half hoping that I know what’s happening, I grasp the hand even tighter as I’m pulled backward into the vent. My mystery helper releases me, and I kick and fumble farther in, slashing wildly with my fingers at the blood pooling in my eyes from the cut in my forehead. Heavy thuds ring though the vent as powerful fists pound at the wall around the opening, but knowing that those huge Drones will never fit through lets relief wash over me. I collapse loosely against the cool metal floor of the duct, gulping in lungfuls of air. I look up over my head, and through the red film glazing my eyes, I make out the shape of a silhouette crawling away from me. That must be Brody; he must have saved me.

Maybe he’s not such a waste of space, after all. Either way, I owe him one.

I flip over and follow behind him, trusting the walls of the duct to lead me anywhere—just as long as it’s away from the white room full of robots where I just came so close to dying. Farther in, I feel my way around a corner as the reverberating fist-falls of the Crimson Drones cease, giving way to the metallic banging of shuffling hands and knees and voices calling directions from up ahead. “Where are you?” calls Brent.

“This way, follow my voice!” echoes Blondie.

The blood in my eyes has caused me to lose track of Brody, so with the daze from bashing through the wall of the cubicle beginning to clear, I decide to use the opportunity of this brief respite to do some much-needed repairs to my bleeding forehead and broken foot. I stop and lie down, taking a moment to calm my breathing. Thanks to years of intensive meditation, any pain I feel is translated into warning sounds instead of physical sensations. It’s a skill I developed despite many of my gurus insisting that it was impossible. I take a deep breath, and with a long exhale, I allow the mental veil to fall away, letting the real pain flow in its pure, raw form.

I wince and gasp as the nerve endings surge into life through the cut in my forehead. The pain shoots up and along and around the edges of the slash, tracing a flickering picture of the wound in my mind’s eye. I visually magnify the seam of sliced flesh to a microscopic degree until I can not only see it in all its gory reality, but also feel every nuanced peak and valley with visceral clarity. Each stinging spark, every throbbing pulse, every burning tingle and grating pinch is painted into a vibrant map of the injury, revealed in meticulous detail by hundreds of thousands of pinpoints of different and distinct flavors and colors of pain.

I know it serves a valuable function—it warns the body of harm—but at times like this, when I analyze it deeply in this way, part of me can’t help but think the reason why pain has the ability to completely consume our minds and leave us breathless and helpless is because, even at its worst, it can be so overwhelmingly and intensely . . .
. That said, relief can be just as sweet, and I hate losing blood. I focus intently. The cells of my body are obedient when I need them to be, and right now I’ve got some healing to do, so at my insistence, like magnets with opposing charges, they start reaching out for one another across the gap in my flesh. I can feel my skin moving as the cut begins sealing shut from the bottom up. Globules of already-clotting blood are squeezed out from the shrinking wound as ruptured cells close rips in their outer membranes and plump whole again before slotting themselves into vacant spaces, joining with their neighbors to heal the divide.

The pain eases as the image in my mind dissolves and the cut repairs, and after a few short seconds, it’s done. I wipe as much of the congealed blood from my face as I can and rub at the spot where the gash was. No scar, not even a scratch, remains. I repeat the process on my foot, releasing the undiluted pain to form a mental landscape of the fractured bones. As I knit and connect the cells in my bones back together with my mind, their counterparts at the end of my leg follow my orders and carry out the appropriate repairs until, with a wiggle of my toes inside my shoe, I’m satisfied that good old righty has been restored to perfect working order.

“Infinity!” a faint and faraway voice calls from up ahead. “Where are you? Are you OK?” It’s Otto.

I clear my throat. “I’m fine!” I call back as I reposition myself and resume crawling onward down a long, straight section of the duct for what seems like a very long time, listening intently for sounds of movement at every junction I come to.

“I can hear you!” says Otto. “Follow my voice; you’re almost there!”

I turn another corner, and half a minute later arrive at the bottom of a very long and steep upward slope. Otto’s face is at the top, dimly lit by the glowing blue diodes in the walls. She must have turned back to find me, but her brow, peaked in the center and lined with worry, doesn’t change to an expression of relief when she sees me. Something tells me that her current state of distress isn’t grounded in concern for my well-being.

“Infinity . . . ,” she says, her echoing voice grave and anxious. “I think you’d better see this.”

“Hey, Bit . . . How is she doing?”

“Wha . . . Oh, hi, Brody. Um, I’m not sure. She doesn’t seem to be getting any worse, so I guess that’s something.”

“Yeah, that’s something. Look, Bit . . . I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about what happened up there. I didn’t mean to leave you and Infinity behind like that. I was . . . I was just really scared, y’know?”

“It’s OK, Brody. I was scared, too.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t run away when she needed you. I’m really sorry that I did. I totally lost it. I can’t stop thinking that if I’d only been braver or faster, then maybe Infinity wouldn’t be hurt so bad and . . . Ryan would, y’know . . .”

“Don’t do that. Don’t beat yourself up like that. We can’t change what happened.”

“Yeah, I guess. Well, um . . . we printed some food, I mean, y’know, if you’re hungry. Do you want me to bring you some?”

“No, thanks, I’m OK. But you go right ahead; I’ll eat later.”

“Ah . . . OK, I’ll just be in the other room if something happens or if you . . . if you need me for something . . . anything.”

“Thanks, Brody.”

 . . .

“Hey, what did that boy want? I told you to keep the visitors out. You’re not very good at following simple instructions, are you, girlie?”

“He was just checking on Finn; that’s all.”

“Hmmm . . . From what I saw, it looked like he came to check on you, if you know what I mean?”

“What? No, I don’t think so. Really? Brody? Are you sure?”

“Ahhh, teenagers. Youth is utterly wasted on the young.”

“Excuse me, Dr. Pierce?”

“Oh, nothing. Any changes I should know about?”

“What, oh . . . um, yes. The bleeding in her legs has stopped, and I . . . I don’t know whether it’s because I’m exhausted or it’s just my imagination, but her right ankle, the broken one, it kinda looks like it . . . straightened itself out?”

“Whoa, hold on a second, girlie . . . What did you just say?”


With a quick shuffle, Otto disappears from view at the top of the incline. I crawl up the sloping section of duct into a level section at the top and just manage to glimpse the soles of her shoes as she clambers around a corner into an adjacent side shaft. She can scurry through these ducts like a freakin’ sewer rat. I have to quicken my pace considerably just to keep her in sight.

After a few minutes of follow-the-leader, I see her slide out of an opening up ahead. I reach the edge of the opening and poke my head out into a small, rectangular room of some kind. I crawl out from the hole, and even though the back of my head bumps the ceiling, I’m thankful that I’m able to stand. Actually, calling this a “room” would be an overstatement; it’s hardly more than a large metal box, and everyone has somehow managed to squeeze themselves in. Blondie is disheveled, Ryan is still rubbing at his arm, and Brent and Brody both look sullen. “You’re bleeding!” Otto says, staring at my face close-up, which I suddenly realize must be smeared all over from the cut I had on my forehead.

“No, I’m not,” I reply.

“Then where did all that blood come from?”

I look toward Brody. He’s ripped the sleeves from his school shirt and wrapped one of them tightly around his right hand. I give him a nod of thanks, and he smiles back.

“Oh yeah,” Otto says, looking down at his makeshift bandage. “Brody mentioned that you accidentally bit him.”

“I thought he was a Drone,” I say, shrugging my shoulders. I figure it’s a whole lot easier to let Otto jump to the wrong conclusion than to try and explain how I healed a bleeding gash in my head with nothing but a focused thought.

Everyone is squashed into the meager spaces between the vent openings and the multiple circular devices attached to the floors, walls, and ceiling. I look around and count five of them in all. They’re cake shaped, a little wider than dinner plates, and have rolls of brushes protruding from their undersides.

“Is this what you wanted me to see, Otto? A box full of pissed-off kids and some deactivated cleaning robots?”

“No. You need to see
,” she says, pointing at the opening in the low ceiling. There are ladder indents going all the way up one of the inside walls of the vertical shaft. “I found this junction space and this ladder purely by chance,” she says as she ducks into the opening and jumps, grabbing the rungs and pulling herself up. “C’mon,” she says over her shoulder. I duck into the opening and pull myself in, too, following hand over hand right behind her. Not only does she scurry like a hamster, but the skinny little computer geek climbs like a damn monkey. It isn’t long before she’s way ahead of me.

“Where does it lead?” I call ahead. “Is it a way out?”

“Not exactly,” she calls back.

We’re climbing for a minute or so when the metal sides of the duct abruptly end. The shaft continues upward, but now the ladder rungs are carved into what feels like stone. Light shining from somewhere above moves over the walls between the edges of Otto’s shadow, and I see that it
stone, a dark, charcoal-gray-colored stone. After another minute, Otto climbs out up ahead, and I’m hit in the eyes with bright sunshine as my ears are met with the sound of rushing water. It
a way out!

I climb up through the square hole at the top of the ladder and prop myself on the edge of the vent, my feet dangling inside, suddenly confused by what I’m seeing. We’re on what seems to be a flat-topped stone tower of some kind. The top surface is about the size of half a basketball court, and there are two rows of palm trees growing on either side of it. Water is pouring over the edge of the tower from two stone aqueducts carved out beside each row of trees, and down on the ground at least fifty meters below, blanketing the surrounding area all around the tower, is a mass of thick green jungle.

“Where the hell are we?” I ask.

“We’re inside Dome One,” Otto says dejectedly.

“This is
the main dome?” I ask.

Otto nods.

“But I can see the sky. If we can just make it down to the ground somehow and walk through the jungle, your classmates are free to go.”

“Don’t be fooled, Infinity,” says Otto. “This jungle and that sky are
of the dome. None of it is what it appears to be. Look at the clouds,” she says, motioning upward. “Look at them closely.”

I look up at the sunny blue above us and pick out a cloud that I think looks a little bit like a dragon. It’s white and fluffy, moving slowly across the sky, and apart from its shape there’s nothing unusual about it . . . until suddenly the cloud flickers and pixelates at the edges, then jitters and vanishes altogether before reappearing in a different part of the sky, looking identical to how it did half a second ago.

“So it’s a projection on the curve of the dome?” I ask, and Otto nods. “Fancy tech,” I add.

“Yeah. Fancy tech that’s glitching,” says Otto. “Even if we
make it to the ground from here, we’d still be trapped in this dome. And if that weren’t bad enough, we’d also be trapped in here with
.” Otto points down to the ground. I crawl over to her and follow the line of her finger. There, standing among the vines and leaf litter, is a group of four Crimson-Class Combat Drones.

I scan around, and through the gaps of tangled foliage far to the left, I spot the silver sheen of at least four more Drones, standing completely still on what looks like a white-tile path. On the right, another bunch of six are standing in a clearing, all of them Crimsons and all of them, much to my envious dismay, carrying long black Sentry 88 fully automatic ballistic assault rifles.

“This place is crawling with Drones, and some of them have guns,” I whisper. “If you knew we couldn’t get out this way, then why did you bring me up here?”

“I wanted you to see it for yourself,” whispers Otto. “You need to get an idea of how dangerous this place is. That jungle down there is made of a substance that can change its shape into anything the computer wants it to become. The computer is malfunctioning and unpredictable, which makes everything even more dangerous, and if there are armed Drones looking for us in here, then they’re probably going to be everywhere. When we go into Dome Two, we had better be prepared.”

“We could avoid Dome Two altogether, y’know.”

Otto gives me the icy glare that I expected she would. “That’s not the deal,” she says.

“OK, then,” I say, holding my hands up in surrender. “You can’t blame me for trying. What’s the plan?”

“First, we have to make it to the Security Station. If I can get my computer slate back, I might be able to access the Blackstone computer and shut down some of its security protocols. I might even be able to shut down the Drones.”

“You can do that?”

“I don’t know. But if we’re gonna try, we’d better do it fast. Back in the crystal tunnels, the computer said its cameras were off-line. Those Drones down there haven’t focused any attention on us up here, so I’m assuming the cameras are still down. We need to make it as far as we can while we can’t be seen.”

“But the computer identified us with motion sensors. Why haven’t we triggered the motion sensors in here?” I ask.

“I’m not sure,” says Otto. “It must take a lot of processing power to maintain that jungle, and we know the computer isn’t functioning at full capacity. My best guess is that the computer is either distracted or the sensors are only active on the lower levels. Whatever the reason, it probably won’t stay that way.”

“So outside the domes, we stick to the vents for as long as we can, and move fast out in the open?”

Otto nods in agreement.

“Well, then, we’d better stop burning time.” I get to my feet and walk to the vent. I’ve been through quite a few air vents and heating ducts on various missions over the years, and this is a little trick that I’ve always enjoyed. I turn to Otto and smirk. “See you at the bottom.” Then, without touching the sides of the opening . . . I jump in. I plunge down the vertical duct like a missile, holding my flurrying skirt down so I can see the way as I free fall, whooshing right past where the rock wall becomes metal.

I see the end of the duct coming, so, using the edges of the soles of my shoes as brakes, I press them against the sides of the duct. I push my back against it to slow my descent even more. It’s only a few seconds’ journey from the top of the tower to the small, metal room, and I gently drop from the vent to the floor with a quiet, ringing thrum.

Ryan looks up at me from his spot against the wall. “Bit told us what’s up there. I’m sure you agree that it’s suicide to try and get out that way.”

“Pretty much,” I reply.

“So, what do we do now?” asks Blondie.

“We stick to Otto’s plan and use the ducts to head for the Security Station. It’s not a great plan, but it’s the only one we’ve got.”

Bit?” asks Brody.

I’m about to say that she’ll be a few minutes, but my thought is cut off from my lips by Otto’s voice bellowing from the square hole beside my head. “Look out belooooow!” I quickly move out of the way as the long, sustained squeaking sound of rubber against metal is suddenly followed by Otto dropping out of the shaft and pounding the floor of the tiny room with a reverberating metallic thud. She crouches on one knee, panting at the air, a mass of frizzy brown hair thrown over her face.

“Bit! Are you OK?” shouts Brody.

Otto flicks her hair back. Her freckled cheeks are flushed bright red and plastered with a grin from ear to ear. “Oh yeah,” she says, her words trailing off into a breathy giggle. “That was

I can’t help smiling to myself. Bettina Otto is turning out to be much more interesting than I thought she was when we first met that fateful night four weeks ago.

With the rush blush still pinking her face, she adjusts her glasses, sheds her school blazer, and, casting it into a rumpled heap on the floor, strides over to one of the openings on the wall. “I’m pretty sure we go this way,” she says, and without so much as a backward glance, she crawls in and scurries ahead.

“You heard her,” I say. “Move your useless carcasses, or get left behind.”

Blondie is the first to jump up; she hurries to the opening and crawls in. Brent pushes to his feet and squeezes past me, his narrow-eyed stare resembling an amusing attempt to burn my eyes out with imaginary lasers. Brody is next, and I pat him on the shoulder as he passes. Ryan follows close behind, but stops and looks me square in the eyes. “I don’t know who you are, or understand why you even exist,” he says. “But if you hurt Finn in any way—”

“You’ll what?” I say, cutting him off.

He doesn’t say another word, but the look he gives me speaks volumes as his eyes delve deeply into mine, flicking from one to the other as if he’s somehow trying to reach beyond who I am, searching to find a glimmer of someone who isn’t there. Ryan’s concern becomes disappointment. He turns away and crawls into the opening of the vent as an uneasy pang ripples through me. No one has ever looked at me like that before. If I didn’t know any better, I might be inclined to think that what I’m feeling is . . . flattered?

I shudder, disturbed merely by the thought of it.

I take a deep breath and immediately quash the intensely unpleasant sensation. That look of concern on Ryan’s face was not for me. It was for
, and it only serves to strengthen my hate for everything she is. As I crawl into the vent, I decide to purge the bitter dregs of useless emotions that Finn has obviously infected me with and leave them to wither and die in this metal coffin of a room. Soon, with Otto’s help, I’ll have the chance to erase her from existence. There’s no space in this body for anyone but me, and the more I learn about the life that Finn has been allowed to live, the more I want to burn it all to the ground . . . and spit on the ashes.

With freshly tempered hatred warming my heart, I carry on through the duct, following behind Ryan as Otto’s directions echo from up ahead. After quite a few minutes of being unwillingly subjected to the sight of Ryan’s butt, I hear Otto’s voice ring out from somewhere in the distance.


“What is it?” calls Brent.

“The end of the line,” replies Otto.

I keep following Ryan, and before long, we’ve caught up with the rest of the group. Everyone is lying in a row in a long, straight section of duct. Shafts of light are streaming in from horizontal ventilation grills in the left-hand wall, and I can see that beside Otto, at the far end of the section, is a flat, metal dead end. Everyone is peering out of the grills. I wriggle into a semicomfortable position and do the same. The vent grills are level with the pavement of what appears to be a large courtyard just outside, but it’s difficult to get a clear idea of the layout from this rodent’s-eye point of view. All I can really see is the base of what looks like some stone-bench seating nearby, some decorative plants overhanging them to the left, and part of a curvy sculpture in the distance. I can see a little bit of the blue sky. I angle my eyes and focus on a tuft of white cloud. It doesn’t glitch or disappear, and I feel confident that we’ve made it out from under Dome One, but just to confirm, I ask anyway.

“Are we in the right place?” I whisper.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” replies Otto. “I would have liked to have gotten closer to the Security Station without leaving the vents, but they only get smaller from here. This is our only option.”

“I can’t see any movement out there,” says Ryan. “Hopefully there aren’t any Drone patrols.”

“Let’s just assume that there are,” I say. “Where’s the Security Station?”

“It isn’t visible from here,” whispers Otto. “. . . but I remember that statue out there from the 3-D model I memorized. If I take the relative approximate size of that statue and scale it up from the model, I estimate the Security Station is about a hundred and fifty meters or so directly northwest of the statue . . . If, using the statue as a central marker, we consider the direction of Dome One to be south.”

BOOK: Infinity Rises
6.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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