It was a very odd sight.
Me, floating down the corridor, sitting on top of a steel ball floating a meter above the ground. It was a good job there was nobody around. Staff in this building have seen some strange things but this would have certainly caught their attention.
Why did I stay in this position? Who knows!
When the ball cleared the pink slime in the lab it would have made sense to dismount and carry the ball, but for some reason it just never occurred to me. When you are running for your life, logic takes a back seat.
Navigating the corridors was the easy part, the same way I had done for years, heading to the elevators that would take me up to the ground floor.
Tonight, everything seemed different. I couldn’t tell if it was the time, working late without anyone around, or because my boss had just tried to kill me. Either way these walls did not seem like the warm, friendly corridors that I was used too. Instead I saw them as the cold, concrete prison that they were.
Passing the doors of my colleagues and friends it dawned on me that they might be in trouble too. Did they know what they had signed up for and what Lara planned to do with them once they were finished?
I must stop her.
Floating down the long, final corridor towards the lifts I noted that this environment, sterile and industrial was a terrible choice for innovation, it didn’t inspire me at all.
The elevators were off to the right, down their own little walkway and as I approached, preparing to turn the corner to face them, I heard the motors from the shafts start to whine and the little ladies voice from inside the cart.
“Basement, Level 2.” The voice said in her polite tone.
It startled me at first. Was this someone coming to save me, or someone else looking to kill me? How far through the company did the corruption go?
Immediately I pushed down on the virtual joysticks on my phone screen and sent the orb into reverse and just like a well-behaved robot it changed direction instantly, without hesitation or warning.
The only issue was me; I was not prepared for the sudden change of direction and while the orb flew silently away in the opposite direction it left me behind, falling and hitting the ground hard.
There weren’t carpets down here. It would have cushioned the fall a little but nope, the cold concrete floor met my face and inflicted shooting pains up my jaw.
I would certainly pay for that little mistake tomorrow but now was no time for self-pity. I scrambled to my feet and flung myself around the corner just as the doors on the elevator opened.
Several pairs of large boots came stomping out of the elevator almost in unison thudding down on the concrete. They came to a stop just around the corner, meters from me and the orb.
“Guns ready men, this guy is dangerous!” The voice came roaring around the corner. They were going to shoot first and not bother asking questions.
Looking around it became obvious that the smooth concrete walls that surrounded me offered no protection. Glancing back down the long corridor I estimated that I would make it halfway to safety before the shooting started. Not enough time.
An idea hit me. Just like when I was trapped with Lara the orb might come to my rescue again. But if escaping Lara was improbable then this would require a small miracle. I didn’t have many options, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone again.
Taking control of the orb, the screen flickered and showed the top of my head. We had equipped the orb with a state of the art 360-degree camera that was originally developed for the guidance system in missiles. It could see in all directions with perfect clarity and an insane amount of detail. When you have access to secret military blueprints you aren’t going to make do with off the shelf components. I just used Lara’s security clearance to access the files I needed; the replicator did the rest.
Little joysticks appeared in the corners of the screen and slowly I manoeuvred the orb to the end of the corridor, just around the corner from the guns.
Controlling it was much easier than it looked. I had never been able to control drones, planes or even remote-control cars with much success, although I had spent plenty of money trying. Money that on several occasions literally went up in flames.
The controls on this were very easy. I think it was because the little orb didn’t bob up and down like a drone. It remained still, perfectly still and perfectly horizontal at all times.
If you pointed it in a direction it moved in that direction, like a computer game character, and I had plenty of experience controlling them.
Okay, only one attempt at this. Lowering the orb to waist height, about a meter off the ground I prepared myself.
I pushed the joysticks forward and then banked around the corner. The orb followed the directions silently.
There was no real front to the machine. The viewfinder on my phone panned around to where it thought I needed to look. Due to the all-seeing camera, the orb didn’t need to spin when it changed direction. It reminded me of one of the old arcade games where your main character moved around the screen, but the graphics were so primitive that they always faced to the right, even when walking backwards.
As it rounded the corner it gave me the first view of the guards. I swiped on the screen to zoom out to fit them all in the viewfinder. Their startled faces were clear. They had never confronted anything like this before.
There were seven guards in total. Standing in formation, rows of two with one huge guy at the back towering over all of them. They were wearing SWAT-style outfits, black with armoured padding and little pockets stuffed with equipment.
Who did they think I was and why did they need all this equipment?
Then I noticed the guns. These were the biggest guns I had ever seen. Well, they were the only guns I had ever seen in real life, and they were very big.
The guards were obviously caught by surprise, my little orb, floating silently in front of them and it took a few moments before they gathered themselves and started to take aim.
The amount of noise that erupted from the corridor as the guards started to unload their magazines was immense. If I thought the noise from one gun being fired by Lara was loud, this was on another level. They kept shooting, but their reactions couldn’t match the speed of the orb.
Pushing forward on the joysticks the orb glided through the air faster than they could target. A spray of bullets missed and slammed into the concrete wall behind. Right in front of me.
The orb flew between the guards. Straight down the middle of their formation while they kept shooting. They were obviously not very well trained because I imagine this is one of the simplest tactics that any competent military person would be able to handle. Luckily for me it went perfectly to plan.
As the orb passed between them, each guard peppered their opposite colleague with a volley of bullets straight into the bullet-proof padding. At least I hoped it was bulled proof. I don’t know much about these things and tonight I wasn’t out to cause anyone any harm. It was them against me and I tried not to give it much thought.
It was a simple tactic that worked like a charm. Six down, one to go.
The last guy stood there as the orb got closer and I started to recognise him.
His name was Frank, and he had been with the company for years. I had often seen him around campus performing his duties as head of security. Usually it involved making sure that people were wearing their name tags and not leaving doors wedged open on hot days. He always seemed like a nice guy. Just doing his job.
I tried to pull back on the controls, but they weren’t responding. I tapped and swiped but nothing happened. Then the screen flickered, and the picture went dead. The words ‘Connection Lost’ appeared in front of me.
The orb had drifted out of range. It was only a simple Bluetooth connection and not really designed for this. The orb did have greater connection capabilities, but I was hardly in a position to set it up properly. I was now blind to whatever Frank was doing around the corner.
I felt my chest tighten as the panic of the situation set in. There was no way I could win a physical battle with Frank and no way I could outrun him.
Frank was a big man. Rumours circulated that he was ex-special forces and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that was true right now. He likely bulked up during his army days and I don’t recall meeting a more physically imposing person. He was built like a bear and the huge machine guns that the other soldiers held looked like a toy in his giant paws. He could easily lift me off the floor with one hand and possible crush my skull with the other.
Neither fight nor flight seemed like options.
Two thoughts hit me. How many people knew what Lara was doing with this company? Also, why were there no doors down this long, cold corridor?
That second thought stayed with me. The temperature seemed to be dropping. It was the floor; it was cold. I had never noticed how cold it was before but right here with my senses heightened I felt myself starting to shiver. Looking down I realised why.
Pink slime was stuck to the bottom of my shoes and it had been eating away at the rubber. This stuff was awful. It was designed to melt away dangerous experimental biohazards. In the past I had seen how quickly it dissolved flesh and had no desire to go through that pain. Kicking off my shoes I let my feet touch the concrete floor.
Cold feet were the least of my worries. If that slime came into contact with my skin I would be begging Frank to shoot me.
Staring at the soles of my shoes the solution came to me.
Carefully I picked up the shoes, and moved to the corner of the corridor.
Franks huge presence also meant that he had no ability to sneak around. His boots could be heard across the entire basement, the floor, straining to take his weight with every footstep.
As he approached the corner where I lay in wait my muscles tensed.
It only took a moment for the slime to take effect. As he turned around the corner I swiped with both hands, wearing my boots as gloves.
Swinging at the point where his head should appear I realised my error. He was much taller than I remembered. Contact was first made with his neck before adjusting my aim and smearing the sole of the shoe up his face. Unfortunately for Frank this meant the slime spread more than I wanted. A little dab should have immobilised him and wouldn’t cause too much long-term damage. I had applied too much but I doubt he knew what had actually happened. The slime reacted quickly.
The sight was disturbing, even though this man was trying to kill me. Frank dropped to the floor, clawing at his face and spreading the pink ooze around. As he tried to scrape off the slime, chunks of his flesh came with it and sat in his gloved hands.
We had some excellent technology in this building but even the best plastic surgeon wouldn’t be able to help. I felt sorry for him, but I was unable to help at this point.
He was just doing his job. He probably didn’t want to do it, but who knows what leverage Lara had over him, he was just following orders and that had led him here.
Turning away I knew I would be hearing his screams for the rest of my life. After a few moments he went quiet and passed out from the pain. There was no way I was going to take another look. Carefully I navigated around his limp body and turned down the corridor.
I found the orb floating in the middle of the elevator car, destruction and carnage all around it.
When it had lost signal from my phone it was on a collision course with the elevator and it was obvious what had happened. The orb had continued its trajectory, broken through the steel doors with quite a bit of force, bounced around the inside of the elevator car a few times, causing destruction, before coming to rest in the middle.
This was my only way up to the ground floor. There were stairs on the other side of the basement but that meant going back past the lab where I left Lara. She might be awake now and who knew what she was willing to do to stop me.
Instead of taking the stairs the solution was floating in front of me. Climbing back onto the ball I removed the ceiling panels from the elevator and exposed the shaft that led up to the ground. I connected my phone to the orb again and with a few settings changed I started to float upwards.
Within the shaft there were cables dangling, strange pipework and steel girders lined the walls. It was difficult to estimate how far I had travelled upward, there was no way I was going to look down.
Eventually the walls gave way to two shiny metal doors. Floating the orb next to them I pressed my head against the cold steel and listened.
It was all quiet. No guards, no alarms, nothing.
Pulling the doors open was tricky. Sitting on top of a floating beach ball trying not to fall to my death. The doors had no obvious handles and they weren’t really designed to open when there was no car in place. They were stiff but with a lot of grunting and nearly falling a couple of times they eventually opened for me.
The light from the big glass atrium blinded me for a moment. It was nicely lit, not too bright for this time of night but a harsh contrast to the dark shaft. The facility was made from two main buildings at right angles to each other and this large glass structure linked them.
It had been installed at the same time they dug down and built the basement. Every day I had worked underneath one of the largest glass structures in the country, but I still didn’t get any natural light in my office.
Dismounting the orb, I pressed the button on top, turning it off. It clanked onto the floor and the sound echoed around the vast, three storey open space.
I felt very exposed crossing the empty lobby towards the doors, surrounded by nothing but glass walls and marble floors.
Looking around to make sure no one heard, I reached down, picked up the orb and wrapped my lab coat around it. If anyone was watching me leave they wouldn’t question why I was holding my coat, however, a metal beach ball floating behind me, people usually noticed stuff like that.
As the automatic doors opened and the cold night air hit me. It was the end of March and it had been a particularly cold month. The bitterness in the air took my breath away for a moment but I was relieved to feel the fresh, morning breeze in my lungs.
My eyes scanned the carpark and relaxed when they found my old reliable. It was second hand, over a decade old and things were starting to wear out but it had never once let me down. It had bumps and scrapes over its silver bodywork from years of abuse, but it always started first time.
Nestling the orb on the passenger seat I roared the engine into life and made my way over to the exit.
The barrier was down and the little light in the security office was dimmed. I tensed my body again but my concerns were soon put at ease when I noticed the guard sleeping in his chair. I don’t blame him, who in their right mind would still be a work at this late hour!
Tapping on the window he jumped in alarm. He looked at me, looked at the barrier, pressed a button and then pulled his hat back over his eyes.
I didn’t know this guard. A place like this had so many staff it was impossible to know everyone, and the night watchmen were not people I regularly met. It also seemed that every night I did work late, there would be a different person on the gate.
This guy seemed pleasant enough and he gave me a smile. I just hope that he wasn’t going to get into trouble for letting me go that easily.
A minute later I was driving down the main road out of town and away from the VisionTech facility I had enjoyed working at. Now I needed to get far away from here.