WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2013
5:59 PM – EDT
Sera Banks clambered up the rungs on the side of the Chamber, a six-foot diameter aluminum-coated sphere resembling an enormous fishbowl. Dropping into its hollow core, she crammed herself and the bulky parcel on her back next to the petite frame of her mentor, once renowned physicist Dr. Iggy Mikos. She grasped the handle on the hatch and creaked it closed, enveloping them in darkness. “He’s coming. Punch it!”
Iggy stabbed at backlit buttons on each end of the Converter, a twelve-inch-long barbell-like device with a handhold in the middle. Her finger slipped. Patience. Feeding on Sera’s impetuousness could get them both killed. She steeled herself and counted off the memorized sequence. “Here we go!” They strapped on oxygen masks, and she entered the final keystroke.
A blinding flash of light and a deafening roar consumed the Chamber. The two scientists shrieked in agony before passing out.
6:00 PM – EDT
Captain Drew Sutherland sliced his access card through the magnetic reader to unlock the door and rushed into the lab, mouth agape. He circled inside the customary shabbiness of the blistered ocher walls, observing cracked lab benches cluttered with wires, circuits, and tools. Equipment hummed, while a familiar ionized smell permeated the air. All the apparatus for the project were present, but the researchers were absent. His decreasing spirals propelled him to the obvious destination, the shiny orb dead center of the warped linoleum floor. Cupping his palm on the convex surface, Sutherland flinched. The alloy blazed with heat. He stepped up on the ladder and heaved the hatch open with a massive forearm. The empty brass interior gleamed back at him in the fluorescent glare. He rubbed the back of his military buzz cut. Where could they be?
6:01 PM – EDT
Hurtling through the sky two miles west of the lab at thirty thousand feet, Iggy woke with a start, the Converter lashed to her left hand. Freezing wind roared in her face, numbing her as she gasped into the mask. Of all the luck—displacement must have triggered a blackout. Struggling to orient herself with respect to gravity, she waited the requisite number of seconds and then pulled the ripcord. The parachute billowed out. Snap! She felt the sensation of being jerked upward by an unseen entity.
Temporarily safe, Iggy scanned the atmosphere. No! Her cohort was tumbling in freefall, still unconscious. “Sera! Pull the cord!” she shouted into the mouthpiece installed in her mask, grateful that Jay had insisted on the communications gadgets. She continued calling over and over, her voice rasping with fear. Finally, the white disk of Sera’s chute materialized, impossibly far below.
Iggy closed her eyes and exhaled. How did she end up here? A fifty-seven-year-old widow and mother—a fugitive. She and Sera would survive, for now. But what about those in peril and those who had perished? What about Nick?
Iggy’s mind traveled through time and space to the day her world ended. She had briefly stepped out of the university lab when a powerful blast catapulted her off her feet and slammed her to the floor. Dragging a broken leg, she’d crawled back through the opening where the door had been blown from its hinges, but nothing could be done. Nick was dead. Her partner and best friend, gone. Her soul ached every waking hour since history was rewritten. The official report blamed her husband for his own negligence, but it was a lie. Nick never took chances. The government had executed him and tried to kill Iggy as well. The retribution had been enacted for the couple’s refusal to develop weapons of mass annihilation. In an attempt to further the psychological damage, the administration had exiled her now fatherless son to a state-sponsored military academy. Iggy got to see Andreas only twice a year. Bastards.
The physicist herself was remanded to the Secaucus Research Installation—a guarded facility in New Jersey derisively nicknamed the Gulag by inmates and jailers alike. Current law sanctioned her detainment under the auspices of The Traitor Act, which required uncooperative citizens to perform compulsory work for the benefit of national security. Other notable provisions included congressional review of the press, border control between states, and elimination of search warrants.
It had to stop.
6:02 PM – EDT
Captain Sutherland plodded toward the colonel’s office, contemplating his options. Two prisoners—correction, two resident scientists—had vanished from the premises. The captain bore no blame. He had been punctual, made his rounds, and followed orders. But by delivering this particular nugget of bad news, he would be in prime position to receive his superior’s full fury. A methodical man intent on his purpose, Colonel Zimmerman did not tolerate failure from his staff. Avoiding the disclosure seemed like the better alternative in the near term. However, delaying would aggravate the inevitable abuse.
Sutherland straightened his uniform as he edged into the office. The cramped, dingy quarters amazed him anew each visit. “Sir? We have a problem. The inmates assigned to Project Vindictus are missing.”
Studying a printed report perched atop a calamity of open files, William Zimmerman shifted his ballpoint and clenched it in a death grip. “What? Who?”
“Iggy and Sera. Their designated cell is unoccupied.”
The commanding officer angled his bulbous head as his bald scalp flushed. “Impossible. No one leaves my base without my permission.”
“With all due respect, sir, they’re gone and no egress points have registered card access.”
“I don’t have time for this nonsense. Do you hear an alarm?” Zimmerman threw the pen down and got to his feet. “If they had tried to escape, I would know, dammit!” He pounded his fists on the desk, and a pile of paper clips scattered.
“Colonel, if you would just indulge me by reviewing the surveillance logs, I’ll show you.” The underling sat down at a terminal in the corner and began clacking at the keyboard. His boss strode behind him and hovered, snorting like a bull, but said nothing.
The captain rewound the recording and hit play. In the foreground, he saw Iggy attired in her typical ensemble of tidy cardigan and pressed khakis. Her spiky wheat-colored hair skirted her ears. Leaning over the workbench, the doctor scribbled on a pad, her eyes narrowed in concentration. She checked her watch with cool deliberation and called to Sera. Unfortunately, the reel captured images only; the conversation was mute.
Sutherland turned his attention to Sera. Her lithe form in the background reached up to high shelving, revealing a gap of flat midriff between her T-shirt and jeans. She pulled down a couple of parcels that appeared to be backpacks. His face spread into a grin as she approached the camera, scowling. Her features were strong, severe even, with a pointed nose, short black hair, and straight bangs, but she carried herself with a confident defiance that he found irresistible.
The pair donned the backpacks and grabbed masks. Iggy seized the remote control barbell device before they inexplicably climbed into the Vindictus structure. After a brief pause, the fishbowl shuddered and the scene phased into white static. Seconds later, Sutherland’s own unmistakable brawn entered, explored the room, and inspected the metallic globe.
“Colonel, that Chamber is empty.”
“Absolutely not possible. Two explanations exist. Either they’ve gone and vaporized themselves by screwing up the Anti-Matter test, or they’ve altered this video and they’re hiding.”
The captain stifled a comment. Even with his rudimentary understanding of the experiment, he recognized that if it had failed, no one would remain.
“Knowing this duo, I’m betting on the latter.” Zimmerman thrust his chin out. “They won’t get away. Initiate a general alert.”
“Yes, sir!” Sutherland smacked a prominent red knob on the wall. Lights flashed as a klaxon sounded. Ahooga! Ahooga! He snatched the intercom microphone. “Attention all personnel. We have a code red situation. Two residents are currently unaccounted for. This is not a drill. All units report to your stations to conduct a section-by-section sweep of the facility and grounds. I repeat: We are in a code red situation. This is not a drill.”
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – PG