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[um_loggedin show_lock=no]The ensuing chatter was louder than a room full of preschoolers, and Allison was far too preoccupied to listen. “We are not going to hand them over,” Grace objected. “That is not an option.”
Redcoat disagreed. “We don’t have much a choice. Do you have any idea what these guys are – what they are capable of?”
“It sounds like you might have an idea,” Winthrop countered. “Care to fill us in?”
“We have had problems with their kind before,” Redcoat admitted, “although certainly nothing as bad as this. We call them ghosts.”
“Humans living in the negative who are somehow able to affect the positive,” Aaron chimed in over the intercom. Allie was pulled from her thoughts; she had forgotten that the good doctor could still hear them.
“Careful what you say to him guys, remember this is a party line.”
“How is that possible?” Grace wondered, responding to Aaron’s statement. “I thought you needed that machine to make changes to an opposing reality.”
“You do, which is why we haven’t quite figured out how to stop them from appearing. It’s possible they have a comparable machine in the negative, but we don’t really see how the machine would manifest an entire consciousness in this way. To achieve this kind of effect without assistance, the average person would have to shut out all of his senses, and devote his entire focus to imagination. Even then I’d be surprised if it’s possible.”
“They’re dreaming,” Allie whispered. Grace’s eyes grew wide.
“Darnight was watching you sleep while you were watching him sleep,” she nodded. When Allie neglected to elaborate, Grace proceeded to explain her dreams of Darnight to the others.
“Well that’s great,” Aaron replied. “Dreamers don’t exactly follow the laws of physics. Who knows what they could do in this state. Charles, Winthrop – cover the lobby’s access points. Don’t take your eyes off of them.”
“What good would that do?” Winthrop asked.
“If one of them enters the room, we’ll see them and they’ll cease to exist,” Redcoat explained.
“Until you cease to observe them,” Aaron continued. “So keep your eyes open. Allie, there should be a blue and white box on the wall somewhere, next to the first aid kit. Grab it and distribute the contents.”
Allison heard him, but her mind was elsewhere. “Allie!” he insisted. “Allison, guys, can you hear me?”
“I got it,” Grace launched herself from the group.
The intercom paused. “Allie, are you all right? What’s going on? Guys, talk to me.”
She stepped over to the intercom. “Five months ago, I lost my memory,” she replied. “But you know that already, don’t you? I can’t remember my past because I have no past to remember – somebody imagined me from thin air.” The comm remained silent, and her heart grew furious. “It was you, wasn’t it? I came from your mind.”
Still the intercom remained silent, then finally crackled, “You were never supposed to know.“
“I had a right to know!” she shouted into the comm.
“I suppose this hinders our chances for coffee.”
“Or an investment,” she heard Redcoat mutter.
“I have like, seven thousand dollars in the bank,” she retorted.
“I thought you were an investor.”
She shook her head. “Reporter.” Redcoat’s face turned white.
”Aaron, I told you to give her money — why in the world would you create a reporter?!”
“That isn’t important,” the intercom replied. “What is important is that she’s with us now, but Allie, you won’t be much longer if you guys don’t start moving.”
“What do you need us to do?” Grace asked, returning with a large metal box; she deposited it on the desk.
“You got the box?” Aaron asked. “Inside there should be two flashlights, two thermal imaging binoculars, and four walkie-talkies. The walkies are looped into the comm system, so we should be able to communicate with them.”
Grace turned them on. “There are only two walkies,” she noted. “You said there were four?”
“Sorry,” came a gravelly voice over the walkies and the intercom. “Already took one.” Allison felt a chill.
“And I think I took the other,” Aaron added, apparently not at all concerned by Richards’ presence on the radio. She had to admit, she was surprised by his relative calm in the midst of such a crisis situation.
“It’s a shame, really,” Richards’ voice came back over the radio. “I had hoped we could resolve this peacefully. Oh, hold on a second – what’s that? Oh, Skippy says he’s actually looking forward to the hunt, and, what was that? Oh Miss Rhode, he wants you to know that he has something special in store for your pretty little friend. Can’t say she’s my type, but Skippy looks excited.”
“You won’t get within yards of us,” Allison shouted back. “As soon as we see you, you’re gone.”
“Well then, I’d better take away your sight,” he replied. With that, darkness fell once more.[/um_loggedin]
[um_loggedin show_lock=no]“The flashlights!” Redcoat shouted. After a brief scramble in the darkness, the two hallways leading to the reception area were bathed in light. “Okay, we’re fine,” Redcoat stated, his silhouette facing the two hallways. “They won’t be able to get in here, so long as we keep staring at the hallways.”
“Unless they’re already here,” Winthrop ominously added.
“Aaron!” Allison breathed into one of the walkies. “Aaron are you all right?”
A figure from her left drew near, and whispered into her ear. It was Grace. “I’m sorry, Allie; I don’t think he’ll be able to communicate with us. If the power is down, then his intercom will be too.” Concern for Aaron’s well being temporarily override her desire to strangle him. Drawing in a breath, Allison drew together her composure and looked around; there had to be some way to communicate with him.
“I’m fine Allie, thanks,” came his voice over the walkie. “Right now I’m more worried about you guys; you’re much more exposed.”
Through her relief, she heard Grace searching the desk for something, then in the dim light watched her put that something up to her mouth. “How are you able to communicate with us?” she wondered over the radio. “I thought the power outage would have knocked out the comms.”
“They are down,” came the reply. “I’m on a walkie; I had ENIIC create one before they took the power out again.”
Grace laughed. “You asked for a walkie instead of a hole in the wall?”
“So what do we do next?” Redcoat yelled back to her; Allie gave his silhouette a curious glance.
Seems the CEO should be the one with a plan, she shook her head. “What do we do next?” Allison repeated into the walkie.
“How secure is the entry hall?”
“Winthrop and Redcoat have eyes on the access points,” Grace replied.
“Have you scanned the rest of the room?” he asked.
“Well yeah,” Allie replied glancing around the dimly lit entry hall. “It’s pretty dark, but you can still make everything out. I don’t see anyone.”
“You wouldn’t,” Aaron pointed out. “As soon as you see them, they disappear.”
“Then how would we know if they’re here?”
“Break out the thermal imaging gear.”
“Which you just happen to have lying around,” Grace muttered under her breath.
“Like I said,” Redcoat spoke, “We’ve had problems with ghosts before.
“So how do we use them?” Allie asked into the walkie.
“The power button’s on top; after that, you put them up to your eyes and look around,” he explained. “The binoculars measure heat radiation, and translate it into color. So, if something is warm, it’ll have more red, yellow, and white in it; if something is cool, it’ll be violet or blue.”
“And what are we looking for?”
Allie put the binoculars up to her eyes. Scanning first the two entrances, she confirmed that they were clear of any ‘ghosts’, as Redcoat called them; then she began to slowly peer around the room.
“I don’t understand,” Grace voiced back into the walkie. “If they stop existing when we look at them, then shouldn’t their heat signature stop existing as well?”
“Well sure, they don’t exist,” Aaron confirmed, “But then neither does cold – it’s simply the absence of heat.”
As Allie’s rotation neared completion, something violet moved into her vision. “I’ve got something!” she shouted; two beams of light flashed overhead, then down to the spot where she was pointing. It was a soda machine.
“Sorry,” she breathed; Redcoat and Winthrop returned to watching the hallways. Allie’s adrenaline rush left her with a chill; she wished she would’ve brought a cardigan. As she finished her sweep of the room, that chill grew colder, and she thought she could smell the faintest trace of…cigarette smoke!
Allison twirled around, and her vision became a blanket of bright blue. She possibly might have screamed as she jumped backwards, back into another patch of cold air. “They’re there; they’re right there!” she exclaimed, dodging to the left, and backing away from the two statues of blue.
Flashlight beams shone her way. “She’s right,” Winthrop confirmed, presumably using the other set of thermal imaging binoculars.
“Somebody talk to me; was that a scream?” Aaron asked over the walkie. “Is everyone all right?”
“No,” Allie replied as her heartbeat slowed. “Nobody screamed.”
“I heard you scream,” Winthrop confirmed over his shoulder.
“I didn’t scream. It was more of a shrill, high pitched shout of surprise.”
A snort came from the figure beside her. “They already have a word for a shrill, high pitched shout of surprise,” Grace replied. “You know what it’s called Allie? It’s called ‘a scream’.”
“Okay, so I screamed,” she allowed. “What are we going to do with these two?” Grace conveyed the question to Aaron.
“Well, we need to get the power back on so that we can work on cutting the locks, so someone should go check out the generator. Everyone else can stay behind to watch the ghosts.”
“I’ll go,” Winthrop volunteered. “My latest patent has me taking a course on electrical engineering.”
“I’ll go too,” Grace jumped forward. “I don’t know a thing about electronics, but it’ll be better than sitting around here watching those things.”
“Those people,” Allie replied; vile as they were, Richards and Darnight were still human beings, two men who had been made victims of Ex Nihilo technology. Allison pursed her lips; to an extent, she understood what they were going through.
After Grace and Winthrop departed for the generator, Redcoat sighed, and leaned against a nearby wall. “This never should have happened.” Allie backed away from the ghosts and sat beside him, still keeping her eyes on the two blue men.
“I never should have existed.”
She heard Charles breathe for a moment. “I should probably apologize for the way we have been using people like you and Winthrop. I know how terrible we must seem for assigning monetary value to the creation of a human life.”
“I’m not sure that money is what Aaron was after in my case.”
“If he brought a reporter into Ex Nihilo, he must have had his reasons.” Redcoat replied, with a hint of what sounded like regret. “He’s been the moral compass of our company for years, never afraid to challenge me when he thinks I’ve overstepped some ethical boundary or other. Even when I threatened to fire him,” he laughed. Allison exhaled her own nervous laugh.
“He’s a good man, and a fantastic scientist, and he could use a little happiness in his life. So do me a favor Miss Rhode and go easy on him.” Allison started to look away, but quickly remembered Richards and Darnight. She checked the binoculars; they were still in sight.
After a long period of silence, Redcoat stood. “My apologies,” he responded to her unspoken question. “Bladder stopped working the day I turned fifty. Will you be all right watching these two while I use the rest room?” he asked.
“Of course,” she replied; he walked to the nearby doorway. As he disappeared from the room, Allison pointed their flashlight toward the center of the entry hall, and lifted the thermal binoculars back up to her face. Sure enough, Blue one and Blue two were still at center stage, and still entirely immobile. Then, without a thought to the consequences, Allison blinked.[/um_loggedin]
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