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[um_loggedin show_lock=no]As Derek and Grace hurried down a hallway in Ex Nihilo, she happened to recognize one of the rooms as they passed it. The plaque beside the door read ‘B7 :: ENIIC’; it was the room within which Aaron was now trapped. She placed her hand against the door, and felt for a knob.
She felt another hand rest upon her shoulder. “There’s nothing we can do from here without the power,” Derek reminded her; she nodded and they continued down the hall.
Then Allie’s voice rang over the walkie. “Everyone, they’re loose,” she conveyed; Derek groaned. “I’m so sorry guys; I blinked.”
“It’s all right,” came Aaron’s voice next. “Grace, Derek? Keep going, but be careful. Watch your front and your back. Charles and Allie, you guys should probably join them.”
Not able to see well in the dim light, Grace accidentally ran into Derek’s outstretched arm. “Hold on,” he whispered, inching his way toward the next turn in the hallway.
“What is it?” she asked; He gave her no response.
As he neared the corner, he held the walkie up to his lips, and spoke, “Testing.” A half a moment later, the same word emanated from beyond the turn. Derek glanced back at her, and whispered, “Richards.”
Spurring into action, Grace pressed her back against the wall opposite the corner, and moved toward the turn in the hall. As the perpendicular hallway came into view, her flashlight illuminated the corridor, and not a soul was in sight – not that she expected to see anyone.
She did however observe the fall of a walkie from about five feet in the air; it hit the tile floor with a clack, and the lid to the walkie’s battery compartment broke off. Derek joined her in peering down the hallway, lifting the binoculars to his eyes to get a better look.
“He’s there all right,” he confirmed; stooping down to the floor, he reached his hand out to retrieve Richards’ walkie. “Carefully now, let’s move around him.”
Grace inched her way around the frigid air pocket, never taking her eyes off of the nothingness that was Slim Richards. She then took Derek’s hand and he led them both forward, while she meanwhile took up the rear guard.
“Don’t blink,” she reminded herself; they slowly moved down the hall.[/um_loggedin]
[um_loggedin show_lock=no]“What happened?” Redcoat demanded as he emerged from the men’s room.
“They’re gone,” Allie replied, nodding toward the center of the room.
“Did you tell the others?” he asked.
Allie nodded, lifting the walkie to her lips. “I’m about to. Everyone, they’re loose,” she conveyed over the walkie. “I’m so sorry guys; I blinked.” Allie glanced to the side, mentally chiding herself for being so stupid. If anything happened to Grace, it would be her fault.
“It’s all right,” Aaron assured her. “Grace, Derek? Keep going, but be careful,” he advised. “Watch your front and your back. Charles and Allie, you guys should probably join them.”
“You heard the man,” Redcoat sighed, moving toward the hallway Grace had departed through. But then Allie smelled something.
“Wait!” she shouted, lifting the binoculars to her eyes. Sure enough, one of the ghosts – presumably Darnight – was waiting for them at the entrance to the hall.
“Testing,” came Winthrop’s voice over the walkie. Allie traded confused glances with Redcoat, who shrugged.
“Let me see those,” he requested after she informed him of Darnight’s presence in the hall. She handed him the binoculars.
“I don’t think we can get past him,” Redcoat observed.
“Not with his arms and legs spread as they are,” she agreed. “He’s trying to block our movement.”
“Or he’s trying to catch something,” Redcoat amended, eying her with deliberation. “Or someone.”
“What happens if we pass through him?” she wondered.
“I wouldn’t know,” he replied, striding toward the other hallway, “and I don’t intend to find out. Come on.”
As Allie backed away from Darnight and into the other hall, she asked, “Where are we going?”
Redcoat answered from somewhere behind her. “I have an idea.”[/um_loggedin]
[um_loggedin show_lock=no]As Grace followed Winthrop into the mechanical room, she was forced to lose sight of Richards. “Go ahead and blink,” Winthrop suggested, closing the door behind them. “We should be safe now.”
She closed her eyes for a moment, relief washing over them like a healing salve. “All right, hand me that spare walkie,” she ordered, leaning against the door. Once she received it, Grace relayed, “Aaron, we’re in the mechanical room.”
“Good,” came the reply. “Does the generator itself appear to be tampered with?”
“Actually, you guys don’t have a generator,” Winthrop observed over his own walkie. “It looks like a flywheel energy storage system – like an advanced sort of battery,” he said. “I’m impressed.”
“IT had me purchase it for the data center,” came Redcoat’s reply.
“At any rate, the battery seems fine; it looks like Richards just cut the wires leading from the circuit breaker.”
“Can you fix it?” Aaron asked.
“It’ll take me some time, but yes, I should be able to.”
“Good,” came the reply. “Prioritize restoring power to ENIIC.”
A smirk covered Derek’s darkened face, and he shook his head. However, he then pulled out a pocketknife, and began stripping wires.
[um_loggedin show_lock=no]“Prioritize restoring power to ENIIC,” came Aaron’s voice over the walkie. Allie continued to back away from Darnight’s invisible form, until she bumped into a body.
“Hey, give me the walkie again,” Redcoat requested; Allie unclipped it from her white fashion belt and handed it back to him. “After you restore power to ENIIC, work on getting power to the security offices,” he requested over the walkie. “I have an idea.”
“What are you thinking, Charles?” Aaron wondered.
“I think I remember Security talking about how a lockdown can be overridden from their office,” he replied; Allie blinked her left eye, and then her right. “If we can do that, we should be able to walk right out the front doors.”
“Perfect,” Aaron agreed. They continued in silence for a moment.
Then Redcoat amended the discussion. “Tell me something Aaron – why the reporter?”
The walkie remained silent for a bit. “Nothing wrong with a little accountability every now and then Charles,” he finally replied. “I would be more than happy to talk about it after we stop the men who are trying to kill us.”
Redcoat laughed. “I suppose we all go out for coffee.”
The walkie chuckled “Yeah, coffee sounds good.”
“It just seems a little odd, that this close to product launch you would turn whistle-blower on us. Nothing has changed in the fundamentals of what we’re doing, and I’ve put all of your recommended precautions in place. What’s different Aaron? What has changed?”
The walkie paused another moment.
“We can have this discussion, Charles, but you and I both know it would be safer to have it at another time, face to face, and not over an open channel. Why is it so important for you to talk about it now, in a dark hallway, where there are no witnesses.”
Allison blinked, and turned to face Redcoat. He sighed, and stepped toward her. “If you lay a finger on her, know that I will kill you,” the walkie crackled, “and have no regret in doing so.” She turned to run, but Redcoat grabbed her by the throat, and shoved her against the wall. She gripped his arms, struggled to breathe, and felt a cold patch of air approaching on her left.
“My goodness Aaron, I am not going to hurt Miss Rhode,” he lied. “You and I have had our differences in ethical boundaries, but frankly your insinuation is insulting.”
“You have always valued wealth above people, Charles. And I’ve seen your plans for Bangladesh.” A flash of concern crossed Redcoat’s face. “You shouldn’t leave your files unencrypted on a server where I have root access.”
With that reply Redcoat used his teeth to turn off the walkie, and clipped it to his suit pocket. Allie struggled to loosen his hold on her neck, but he had a remarkably strong grip for his age. “I am truly sorry, Miss Rhode, but it seems that Aaron has forced my hand. As far as I understand quantum mechanics, your transition from this life should be relatively painless.
She dropped the flashlight, which flickered upon impact, and devoted her hands fully to the task of wresting her neck from Redcoat’s grasp. “You’re really strong for a fifty-year-old,” she choked out. He responded by pulling her away from the wall, her back now facing the frigid patch of cold air.
“I don’t know if you can hear me,” he shouted, “but I’m giving you what you want. Take Miss Rhode, Darnight, and let me go.” He forced her back another inch; the temperature around her body dropped another ten degrees. “I’m closing my eyes now; do what you please.”
After a moment, the temperature dropped once more, even though she hadn’t moved. “Interesting,” a voice whispered from behind. “Charles Redcoat, I rather like you.”
“Just take Miss Rhode, and let me be,” he reiterated.
“We have a deal,” the voice whispered; Allie wrinkled her nose in revulsion. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, Darnight’s stench increased tenfold; she soon received another blast of putrid air. “Now I have only to decide where to touch you, my dear,” he breathed. “Since this is the only touch we will ever share, I ought to make it special, right?”
“Bite me,” she replied through a shudder. She struggled to turn her head, to make him disappear once more, but Redcoat’s grip held her fast. As she stood there, powerless, barely able to breathe and certainly unable to scream, Allie realized that the man she was staring at, Charles Redcoat, was the true monster of Ex Nihilo; the ghost looming dangerously close to her back was simply a byproduct.
Desire, she noted, wasn’t inherently wrong; neither was the pursuit of a desire’s fulfillment. Yet to fulfill one’s desire at the expense of someone else – that was a pursuit which defied all moral constraints. It was the basis of thievery, of murder, she shuddered. Of rape. And it was the basis of Ex Nihilo Industries.
ENI’s technology could produce anything a person might desire, but always at the cost of someone else. Redcoat didn’t care about the people his company had harmed; he didn’t care about the woman he was choking, and getting ready to remove from reality, or whatever it was Darnight was planning to do. All he cared about was retaining his success and position, and he was willing to sacrifice Allison’s life in payment. In a way, Redcoat represented everything that was wrong with Ex Nihilo Industries, and the world.
He had to be stopped. Releasing one hand from fighting his chokehold, she began to quietly rifle through her purse, searching for something, anything that might help her out of this predicament; her hand closed around her compact. I hadn’t thought of that, she elated, pulling it out. With Redcoat’s eyes closed and Darnight looming behind her, she opened the tiny makeup kit, and peered at her specter through its tiny mirror. The cold sensation behind her stopped moving.
Next step. She kicked Redcoat in the groin. As soon as he doubled over, he released her neck, and Allie grabbed the flashlight off of the floor. Then she snatched the walkie and thermal binoculars from his angry, groaning silhouette, and dashed around the corner of the hall. Given that she’d left him in total darkness, it didn’t surprise her when she heard the snap of a neck, and the thud of limp flesh as he hit the tiled floor. Then she heard someone scream.[/um_loggedin]
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