The timer continued ticking. It now read thirty minutes. That was how long I had waited since inputting the final instructions into the computer. It was just a waiting game now as the machine in the next room cranked and hissed, turning the raw materials into what could be a game changing invention.
The simulations over the past few weeks had proven the physics and the invention should work. We had produced a few near misses, but I was confident that this time we would see results.
The one of a kind prototyping machine chugged away, firing lasers and radio waves at objects to manipulate them so they resembled the blueprints I had given it. I was nervous.
Lara stood over my shoulder, just like she had done for the past few hours. As soon as I told her I was close to a breakthrough she hadn’t left my side. Having the CEO of the company overlooking your life’s work can be intimidating but not for me. I have known Lara for a very long time, and I was used to this behaviour now.
The machine changed its tone and a loud hiss could be heard from somewhere in its bowls. This meant that it was close to completion. I just hoped this time it worked. The machine had rejected so many of my creations I had lost count and started to lose faith.
The machine itself was one of a kind. It took in raw materials and then using some highly complex physics and alchemy it turned those materials into whatever you needed. It was huge, not only physically, taking up a large area of the basement floor, but also the impact it had on our research. No longer did you have to wait for prototypes to be sent away for construction, we could build anything right here in this lab.
Lara had been responsible for its construction and its creation helped her dramatic rise to the top of the company. She didn’t actually build it, Lara was smart, very smart, and too smart to actually build something like this herself. Instead she managed the team that built it and then took all the credit herself. During this project she became known throughout the staff as one of the most ruthless managers in the entire company. There were stories about how she had broken the spirits of the staff in the final few days, pushing them to their limits which was why many of them chose not to return to work while she was still in charge.
I must admit that I understood their pain. Lara had basically held me prisoner in here for the past thirty hours. She never physically stopped me from leaving but she was not subtle about what would happen if I did.
Fortunately, I didn’t have a family to go home too. I rented an apartment close to the facility and slowly over the past few years research had become my life. I already had a makeshift bed in the office where I could catch a few hours while the supercomputer would compute my simulations. Besides, who would want to leave knowing that their life’s work was about to become reality.
A green light appeared over the hole that linked this lab with the massive prototyping machine. The rubber conveyor belt started to move and I got very excited.
I looked up at Lara and she glanced back at me. This was it, we both knew it. Out of the dark void where so many prototypes had previously appeared rolled a metallic, spherical device not much bigger than a basketball. However, someone had glued switches and dials all over this sphere, and a small display that glowed in the dark was lit up displaying the works ‘Ready’.
Lara stood up straight and leapt across the room towards the output tray. The lab was a decent size, about 10 meters across, but between us and the little spherical ball were all kinds of experiments. Test tube, tanks of strange slime and all kinds of strange liquids in different beakers. Lara didn’t care about any of that, she knocked into one of the tables, nearly toppling a centrifuge and hurtled across the lab.
I was not going to get in her way so I took my time, getting out of my chair and slowly walking across the lab. I was excited, but I had knocked over these liquids before. I was only slightly scared of what the liquids would do and terrified of what the scientists who set them up would do to me if they found out I had destroyed their experiments.
After all, this was not my main office. This was the office for some of the biologists and I had just been taking up space in the corner for the past two weeks and stopping anyone else from using the prototyping machine. I probably wasn’t anyone’s favourite at the moment.
Lara stood there admiring the little sphere like a new born baby. As I got closer I noticed that she was literally shaking with excitement, like a child staring at a mountain of presents on Christmas Day.
“Well, what are you waiting for!” Turn it on already and make sure it works!” Lara barked at me. I had known Lara for many years and she had always treated me like a second class citizen. We were roughly the same age, in our mid-thirties and by every measure we were equals but she had the title of CEO and I didn’t and somehow that justified her actions.
I picked up the oddly shaped ball and held it in my hands. It was surprisingly light for a metal basketball, the steel casing was cold to the touch and the dials glided round effortlessly. Overall it seemed very durable as I twisted and toggled the switches. The little colourful display reacted, displaying different numbers and icons, just like I had programmed it to.
This was it, my lifetime achievement. The years of research and dedication to this company was finally all worth it. I wasn’t the only person responsible for this of course and I would make sure that my team knew how important they were to the company tomorrow morning.
I knew my team well and I had started to prepare for this moment weeks ago. I know what each member of the team truly valued and tomorrow they would all receive something heart felt from me. Whether it was an expensive bottle of champagne, flights home to see their family or sports tickets to the cup final, I didn’t care about the cost I just wanted them to know that I was grateful. They had worked hard on this and it was a shame none of them were here now.
I rotated a few of the dials away from their default positions and then located the single button on the top of the device.
I pressed it.
A small, audible hum came from deep inside the ball and I felt it struggling to leap out of my hands. I let go and it jumped into the air, abruptly stopping and floating above my head just over two meters from the floor. It looked odd, floating there like a Las Vegas magic trick. I couldn’t contain my excitement anymore, I let a smile creep across my face.
Lara let out a squeal of delight and turned to me.
“OK, I need you to pack this up, it is getting shipped out of here first thing tomorrow morning. Let’s see which military has the biggest budget!” Lara said as she smirked at me, unable to contain her own delight. “Oh yeah, purge the files on the computer too. We don’t want this secret getting out, letting the whole world know what I’ve created here!”
I could see the energy in her face as all her emotions became exaggerated. I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wondered if I was about to suffer the same fate as so many that had come before me. Was Lara about to cast me out now that she had my invention.
There were rumours of lawsuits from previous staff, some of whom had mysteriously disappeared. I remember Ron who was working in this lab until about a month ago. He was one of the biologists who I feared. He was working on something to do with cloning technology, but I hadn’t seen him around the office in over a month. Maybe he had taken a long holiday, or maybe not.
What was Lara going to do now that she didn’t need me. She couldn’t fire me could she? I would just go and work somewhere else. If I do say so myself, my credentials are quite long and I wouldn’t have a problem getting another job. Besides that, other research and development teams would love to know what goes on in this place and would hire me just to get me drunk and hope I spill the beans. No, Lara wouldn’t risk that. She had to keep me around.
Lara walked under the floating ball and looked up. She was tall enough to reach it but instead she just smiled and turned back to me.
“Run some tests on it and make sure it’s operating correctly whilst I go and get the champagne.” Lara instructed; her tone was a lot more friendly, even happy. She threw me a smile before she bounced off through the airlock door.
Lara was pretty, brunette and roughly my age. We had grown up together and our families had been close but she had a completely different personality to me. She was ruthless and her opinions could only be described as ‘extreme’. She was of the opinion that only she knew how to improve the world and she would instantly reject anyone’s opinion that didn’t match hers. If she wasn’t technically my boss, then I would not have spent the past few evenings with her. It would be much more enjoyable alone in my apartment, or at the supermarket or even being forced to listen to nails on a chalk board.
There was only one door in and out of the lab. This had been created by design. It was explained to me as a safety measure just in case some of the horrid liquids that lived around here escaped. In reality I knew it was purely for security. It was important for Lara to know who was going into each Lab. Who had clearance and who didn’t. I once allowed a biologist called Julie who was working down the corridor into my lab one lunch time. Lara found out about this and striped Julie of all her privileges for a month. No parking spot, no gym, no medical.
There were a lot of doors like this in the facility and I refused to find out what was behind most of them. There were a lot of rumours, but I liked the innocence of simply not knowing.
At this late hour I doubted that there would be any staff around to witness our creation anyway. Lara was adamant as soon as she found out I had a successful simulation that neither of us were leaving until the prototype had been built. Now that time had arrived and the prototype was happily hovering over my head, proving it worked flawlessly.
As I stood there, staring at the basketball floating in mid air my mind suddenly started to race at the possibilities. Flying cars, trains to the moon and supertall skyscrapers. One serious project I had developed simulations for involved suspending water in continuous free fall. The water would fall down to Earth and then get sucked back up again in a continuous loop. If you stick a generator in the middle then you have continuous clean energy. It wasn’t quite perpetual energy but the gravity distortions didn’t pull their energy from the local dimensions so it effectively worked in the same way that solar panels converted energy created billions of miles away.
This was a magical device and it could solve so many of the worlds problems. Free energy, population explosions not to mention space exploration and Lara wanted to keep it a military secret and auction it off to the highest bidder. I couldn’t let it happen; my life’s work deserved to be used for the good of humanity not pad out the bank account of a company.
I stood there staring at the orb floating over me, in awe of the possibilities never hearing Lara enter the lab again until she got closer and whispered in my ear.
“Beautiful isn’t it!”
Her voice startled me and I jumped a little. Lara was holding two champagne flutes and handed one to me.
“To the future!” She declared as she held her glass in the air.
“To the future!” I stuttered and followed her gesture, moving my glass flute into the air to match hers. Her eyes followed my hand all the way, not wavering from the glass.
I started to lower my hand and her eyes remained fixed on the glass. I started to feel very sick at the prospect in front of me. I moved my hand to the left and right and her eyes followed it like a dog watching a ball.
Why was she so obsessed with my drink? It couldn’t be poisoned, could it? I would have to think quick though. I noticed that she was becoming impatient, her eyes were growing frustrated.
“And to gravity!” I yelled. It was the first thing that came to mind. I threw my hand up into the air again at a pace that ensured most of the contents of my glass leapt out, flew the short distance between us and landed mostly in Lara’s glass, causing it to overflow and trickle down her hand.
“You idiot!” She screamed before composing herself. Her voice went quiet and narrowed into a scowl. “That was very expensive!”
“Sorry, I let my excitement get to me.” I lied. “You drink yours and I’ll clean up this mess.”
Her eyes darted to her glass, overflowing and dripping on the floor then they snapped back to stare into my eyes, deep into my soul.
It was in that instant I realised how much danger I might actually be in. Lara had just tried to poison me. I had to get out of here.
I stared back into her eyes and the moment of realisation dawned on both of us.
“What are you going to do now?” Lara hissed as she put the glass down on the table. “I don’t need you anymore, your just a liability at this point, you’re a smart boy, you must understand that.”
I stepped back slowly, making my way across the office. The silence of the office caught my attention. It was late but this was a twenty-four-hour facility and Lara always demanded people worked late. I had worked several late nights myself recently in preparation for tonight and there were always people around. It wasn’t difficult to lose track of time down here in the basement with no windows or regular shifts, so people always stayed later than they planned. Tonight, there was no-one, just as Lara had intended.
“Don’t do this! We can work something out.” I mumbled. I had never thought I would need to beg for my life, so I didn’t really know what words to say.
“You’re so naïve Dom. This is the only way it can happen.” Lara walked slowly towards me and I saw her hand reach behind her. “You should have just drunk your champagne!” Her voice turned shrill and she pulled her hand back from behind her.
I decided I didn’t want to hang around long enough to find out what she was holding. I dove to my right, behind a floor to ceiling steel container that we used to store chemicals.
It was the loudest noise I had ever heard. My first instincts were to pat myself down to make sure that I hadn’t been hit. Relieved that I couldn’t feel anything I noticed the glug of slime that started to pour out of the side of the container.
It was a pink ooze that the biologists used to destroy their creations. It was excellent and eating organic matter, just don’t let it get on your skin. Quickly climbed to my feet and jumped onto a nearby stool. If I got that stuff on me I will be begging Lara to shoot me. I had seen what that stuff does, it acts quickly and painfully.
“This stuff is dangerous! Someone is going to get hurt!” I yelled, to the person holding the gun trying to shoot me. I grimaced at the irony of what I was saying.
The stool wobbled underneath me. I am not a heavy man, slim and slender, but the stool was not designed for this and it continued to wobble. I noticed that the rubber on my boots had started to bubble, it had been splashed by that ooze. I looked down and saw the whole floor had turned pink. I couldn’t get away but Lara couldn’t get me either.
“What is the plan now?” I shouted back. “I am trapped but you can’t get to me either. See sense Lara, please!”
This corner of the lab was keeping me safe. The metal container against my back pouring its contents all over the floor. There was a rack of test tubes opposite me but I couldn’t reach them without stepping into the slime. The only good point about this position was that Lara couldn’t position herself to see me without stepping in the slime.
The bullet hit the metal container on the other side but it didn’t travel all the way through. Bullets are useless at moving through liquid and I had an entire container of slime behind me.
“You can’t shoot through that! It’s basic physics. Now can we please talk this through!” I yelled, the ringing of the bullet still in my ears.
“I can wait. Don’t worry.” Lara yelled back. “Once that container has emptied all over the floor, I like my odds then.”
She was right. I was safe behind this container as long as there was liquid in it but with every moment that liquid emptied and the more holes she shot into it, the quicker that would be.
Another loud bang echoed around the lab as this time the bullet went through the container and smashed all the glass test tubes on the wall opposite. I looked up and saw the puncture hole at the top of the metal barrel. At least we now know the bullets can make it through.
“How about we work together with this. All the best inventions were given away for free. The World Wide Web, Polio vaccines, the ball point pen! You could be a modern-day hero.” I tried to appeal to her conscience.
“Dom are you telling me that you want to give this technology away for FREE! Your survival instincts aren’t very good are they!” Lara replied over the glugging liquid.
My eyes became fixed on the door on the other side of the lab. I wonder how good she was with the gun. I could jump over the tables and possibly make it. Then again, I suspect that this might not be the first time Lara has been in this situation.
This time the container shook as the bullet entered it. Luckily it didn’t come all the way through but I could tell the container was running emptying fast.
There was one idea that came to mind. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my smartphone. While working on previous prototypes we found it useful to get technical readouts so we created an app that could talk to the onboard computer via Bluetooth.
Within that little floating globe was an array of sensors including a very awesome camera. If I could connect to it, I might just be able to fashion an escape.
I told my phone to scan the local area. A few seconds later a device popped up. It didn’t have a readable name but it was the only device in range so it must be the ball. I pressed connect and held my breath.
“Success.” The screen read and the custom app launched.
Everything that I was about to do was all theoretical. It had worked in the simulations but there was no guarantee. To be honest I didn’t even know how the code worked. It had been put together by one of my staff who had torn apart a drone that he had received as a birthday present and he reverse-engineered the app used to control it.
The app only took seconds to load. My phone screen flashed and then a picture of the back of Lara’s head came into view. She was stood on a steel table aiming the gun at the container.
A few moments later two little joysticks appeared on my screen. These were used for flight control. I hoped.
I pushed the sticks forward towards Lara’s head and without hesitation the floating ball jerked forward, crashing into her. I heard the clatter behind me before I saw it on the screen but moments later I saw her. Out cold. I could see she was still breathing but she had just received the equivalent of a baseball bat to the head.
Pushing on the joysticks I manoeuvred the silver beach ball around the lab to my location and jumped on top, careful not to move any of the dials or press the button that would turn the whole machine off. If you have ever tried to sit on a yoga ball you know it isn’t easy but when it’s life or death, even someone as awkward as me can learn to balance very quickly.
The sensation was strange. I expected it to sag as in the air as it took my weight, the same way a beachball floating in the water will sink when you try to jump onto it, but it didn’t, it stayed completely unmoving, hanging in the air.
Finding a comfortable position was difficult and if I survived tonight I would curtained re-think the design. It was difficult to sit on the top, not touch and of the buttons or switches and also use my phone to control it. Eventually I found a position that worked, like a crouching ninja.
I floated over to Lara and noticed her hand with the gun in it was hanging off the side of the table where she lay. It was centimetres away from the rising pink slime. I lowered the ball over to her and pulled her hand away, shaking the gun lose and watching it fall into the slime. Resting her hand back on the table I grabbed her ID badge and shifted the ball towards the door. As I went through the airlock door, I pressed the ‘Lock’ button. Without her ID badge she would have to manually overwrite the door. It might just give me a little extra time.