Chapter 5

Chapter 52018-12-01T23:46:30+00:00

Chapter 5

After about ten minutes of Redcoat’s blathering on about fiscal projections and such, Allie began to miss the stack of tax law she’d been consuming that morning. More disturbingly, she began to miss having Aaron around; he had stayed back to power down the machine.

“So, are you gonna take him up on his offer of coffee?” Grace whispered in her ear.

“Shut up,” she replied. “I’m trying to listen.”

“Because line graphs are so riveting,” Grace parried. “We should go out some time, all three of us, break the ice. And believe me, your ice needs breaking.”

Something about Grace’s obsession with the man seemed off. “If you like him so much, maybe you should go out with him.” She glanced over to gauge Grace’s reaction.

“Nah,” she smiled, “watching the two of you together is far more rewarding.”

At that moment, the lights went out; Allison blinked.

“Everyone? Everyone stay where you are,” Redcoat’s voice cut through the darkness. “Emergency power will come on in a minute.”

As the group stood there in silence, waiting for the power to return, Allie’s eyes began to adjust to the darkness. There was precious little light, the sole source being the bank of plexiglas doors at the far end of the lobby. Even then, the sun had already set outside, so the world outside was lit by little more than the moon.

A squeaking sound cut through the darkness; it sounded like a foot scuffing against the marble floor. “Everyone just stay where you are,” Redcoat reiterated. Silence fell, followed by the soft plodding of distant footsteps.

“Stay where you are!” Redcoat insisted; the footsteps kept plodding.

“I don’t think that’s one of us,” Allie replied, noticing that the footsteps still sounded distant – at least fifteen feet away. They drew closer.

She began to feel the effects of adrenaline pumping throughout her body, an unfortunate reaction as the sound of her increased heart rate was now distracting her senses; she strained her ears to hear more. “Dr. Wright?” Grace called out. No one responded. Almost against her will, Allie drew in a long, deep breath, hoping direly that she wouldn’t find the scent of sweat, or cigarette smoke. She didn’t.

“Who are you?!” she called out; the footsteps came to a stop not three feet away from her.

She listened to his breathing. “Tell me, which one of you is Derek?” whispered the footsteps’ gravelly voice.

“No.” came another voice from her right – Derek Winthrop’s. “No, you stay away from me.”

“Mr. Winthrop, who is that?” Redcoat demanded; no one answered. Instead, Allie felt a chill breeze past her, toward the spot where Winthrop had been standing. She heard a scuffle of feet, and what sounded like a brief struggle.

“Derek?” she called out. The scuffling fell silent, and no one answered. Then the lights returned.

“Augh!” Grace winced; Allie squinted her own eyes as she adjusted to the room’s newfound brilliance. As soon as she could, she glanced over to the spot where Winthrop had been previously standing.

He wasn’t there. “Derek?” she called.

“Over here,” came the reply; it came from behind her.

“Oh thank God,” Redcoat hurried over to him. “Sir, are you all right? Who was that? You have my sincerest apologies regarding the power; this doesn’t normally happen.”

“You knew the man?” Allie stepped toward him, “Who was it?”

Winthrop exhaled, and glanced around. “No, honestly, I’ve…never really met him,” he deflected, stepping back toward the group.

“Well,” Grace noted, “whoever he is, he’s gone now,”

“If you don’t mind Charles, I think now would be a good time for me to leave,” Winthrop glanced toward the doors, then back at Redcoat. “I’ll cut you a check in the morning.”

“Sure, absolutely,” Redcoat nodded. “I look forward to doing business with you.” He shook his hand, and escorted Derek toward the exit.

As the two men were walking away, something else caught Allie’s attention; it sounded like a faint voice speaking from somewhere nearby. “You hear that too?” Grace whispered; Allie nodded.

“Sounded like it came from the reception desk.”

Allie recalled the gravelly voice she had heard in the darkness, and noted that its corresponding body was nowhere to be found when the lights returned. In fact, she grimaced, the only place to hide in this room would be behind the reception desk. She stepped toward and around the desk.

No one was there – just a plaque inscribed with the name ‘Julie’. “Hello, can anyone hear me?” came the tinny voice once more. “Is everyone all right?”

Allie sighed, and let out a laugh of release. Stepping over to what appeared to be an intercom, she pressed a button and replied, “Yes Aaron, we’re all fine here. Are you all right?”

She then heard Grace whisper something; Allie glanced up from the intercom to listen, but found that Grace was actually speaking with Redcoat and Winthrop once more. Thought he was leaving.

“Yes, I’m fine,” came Aaron’s response. “I’m stuck in this room though; the card reader isn’t working. I’ll have to reboot the system before I can open the door.”

“And you can do that from where you are?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m still with ENIIC,” he replied, “I should be able to remotely access the server from here.”

Allie glanced up at Redcoat, who met her gaze. “Well that’s good,” she replied, “because it looks like the outside doors have locked as well.”

The intercom remained silent for a moment before Aaron replied. “No, I think that’s different,” he explained. “It’s a security precaution. When the power goes down, bolts inside the doors fall into place; we’ll have to cut through the bolts to get out from the inside.”

“Sounds like a fire hazard,” she complained. She walked around the desk to reconvene with Grace and the others.

“Listen, the man who just attacked me is probably still here, in this building,” Derek insisted with a raised voice. “The last thing I want to do is lock myself in here with him.”

“I wish I had a way to remove you sir, believe me,” Redcoat tried to assuage him. “But the doors are bolted shut; we need to get help from the outside.”

“Can we phone for help?” Grace offered. Allie tried the receptionist’s line.

“Land lines are down,” she replied, glancing to the side. “Strange that both the power and the phone lines would go down.”

“What about cell phones?” Winthrop suggested.

Allie rifled through her purse. “Great, I lost mine. Anyone seen a silver Motorola?”

“Mine’s missing too,” Redcoat frowned.

“Me too,” Grace grumbled. “Derek?”

Everyone looked to Winthrop, who simply shrugged. “Sorry; I don’t own one.”

“How can you not own a cell phone?” Grace demanded. Allie chuckled at the horror covering her face.

“So everyone who had a cell phone is now missing it,” Allie mused. “That’s an unfortunate coincidence. It’s starting to feel like someone locked us in here on purpose.”

The tinny voice of the intercom spoke up once more. “Very good, Miss Rhode,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’ve done.”

“Aaron?!” she replied in alarm, a chill running down her spine. “What possible reason could you have for locking us in here?” She felt almost betrayed; she had almost agreed to go out with the man.

“Allie, that isn’t me,” came another voice – the voice of Dr. Wright, now that she listened more closely.

“Oh yes, sorry about the confusion,” the first voice agreed. “I got my hand on one of your security’s walkies. The name’s Slim Richards.” Allie drew in a breath. According to Aaron, Richards was the man whose existence was swapped with Derek’s.

“Who are you?” Redcoat demanded. “And how did you get into Ex Nihilo?”

“Not feeling particularly talkative, sorry,” Richards replied. “What is important is that one of you has something I want – something that was stolen from me.”

Allie glanced at Winthrop, who caught her gaze. “What do you want?” he asked, returning a look which wavered between curiosity and fear. As Allie stared into his eyes, she found herself starting to actually believe Aaron’s insane account of what he had done.

She replied, “He wants your existence.”

“Haha! Very good Miss Rhode. It seems you already know how me and Derek here are connected.”

“What in the world are you guys talking about?” Winthrop shook with anger, or possibly fear.

“You know,” Richards replied, “it took me over a month of wading through Wright’s journals before I could fully understand my connection to Derek. Then another two weeks to figure out how to fix it.” Allie glanced over to Winthrop, whose eyes remained fixed on the intercom. “But during that time, don’t you know I made a friend,” he continued, “a man by the name of Skippy Darnight. Say ‘hi’ Skippy!”

“Hey, guys.”

“He’s a really great guy, Skippy. Seems he and I have a similar problem though; seems somebody stole his existence.” Richards chuckled. “So let me ask you Miss Rhode, if you already know how Derek is connected to me, tell me – how is Skippy connected to you?”

Allison blinked. Grace interjected, “What?!”

“Our demands are simple,” Richards concluded. “Deliver Allison and Derek to Skippy and me, and the rest of you can leave.”

“What exactly would you do with them?” Redcoat replied.

“Simply send them back where they belong, back to the mind of their creator.”

“That’s not happening.” Aaron’s voice, over the intercom.

“Yeah, we figured as much,” the other voice replied. “So we’ll just kill everyone and call it even.”

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