Chapter Four – Vial Thoughts
Half of the engineering staff in the engine room had just left for lunch. Harrington observed them from his hiding spot across the corridor behind a grate in one of the higher cooling ducts. He peered out of the darkness 20 feet from the ground. The crew in the heart of J sector took their breaks in shifts, just in case anybody tried to infiltrate the facility and run off with some of the more expensive parts. Originally, staff ate lunch at their station, remaining ever vigilant. Engineers however are particularly messy eaters and after a near catastrophic meltdown was linked to a surprisingly dense cube of feta cheese, the crew were sent away to dine elsewhere in relative safety.
Harrington slid out of the cooling vent, silently leaping onto a convenient heating pipe and then with an impressive swirling motion, flipped himself onto the ground with the effortless grace of somebody who’d spent the majority of their childhood with very grazed knees. Using the keycard acquired from a hopefully still unconscious guard, he walked confidently into the room.
Proper espionage is a craft, shrouded in silent footsteps, clinging ridiculously to walls and inexplicably rolling around on the floor, usually pared with being covered from head to toe in various black clothing 2 sizes too small. A formula that Harrington always considered as rather silly and unproductive. He was firmly of the belief that there was nothing more obvious than a man trying very hard to not be seen or heard. The human mind, possibly out of fear or perhaps just boredom is constantly on the lookout for anything odd, unsettling or just downright suspicious. It’s the reason security guards can spend all day staring off into the middle distance trying to remember the words to some theme song from a decade ago and yet still notice some camouflaged ‘tosser’ silently rolling about in the darkness over 50 feet away upstairs in another room, but at the same time fail completely to notice a very large man covered in weapons walking past eating a sandwich.
So whilst people see everything, they only tend to acknowledge what’s expected. Consequently, nobody was looking at Harrington, who now stood confidently in the bustling engine room looking over his notes. The room was 5 times the height of the corridor and packed with pipes and ducts that snaked around walls up into the darkness of the ceiling. A dozen or so armoured engineers were busy recording data and fiddling with buttons. Loud mechanical groans rumbled through the shaking pipes accompanied by sharp releases of gases far above the commotion. If Harrington’s information was correct, his last item was here.
The room was alive and Harrington was staring right at it’s heart. In the centre, on a metal base, was a large reinforced glass chamber; with 3 troopers standing amongst the myriad of wires and pipes feeding out from the bottom. Everything in the room in some way or another appeared connected to it. Suspended freely in a ghostly green gas was a vial as big as a pint glass. Harrington knew this was what he was here for. He felt an unusual and somewhat unsettling feeling creeping into his stomach, he couldn’t decide whether he desperately needed the vial in his hands or to run from it. Even looking at it was tricky. Inside the vial was dark, darker than dark, a new colour between nothing and emptiness. If black is the absence of light, then this was the sheer absence of everything. He wondered if looking at it with sunglasses on would help?
He slowly felt the glass, for something with such energy pouring out of it, the large container was terribly cold to the touch. An engineer pushed past him unaware of his presence, busy checking the pipes around his feet. Harrington grabbed him by the shoulder.
“Is this dark matter?” Harrington asked.
The scientist looked up confused, the clearance level of this room meant simple questions were rarely asked, and even more rarely, answered.
“Uhhh, no its exotic, where have you been this month?”
“I’ve been around” replied Harrington silently unclipping his sidearm from its classy yet practical leather case, waiting for the penny to drop.
“Wait…, who are you? why haven’t you got armour on?”
The shrill shout broke the spell completely, all heads snapped toward Harrington, all apart from 3 electrical engineers working on a console in the far corner, this wasn’t their main designated zone and so not their problem and they promptly ignored it.
It’s widely acknowledged that engineers found in a crisis can fix almost any problem, so long as it involves the use of at least 3 screws and half a roll of duct tape. What they don’t excel at however, is counter espionage or physical intimidation.
Before anyone in the room could remember where they’d installed the panic button, Harrington had drawn his weapon aiming it straight at the glass container and covered his face.
The resulting explosion was not at all what Harrington was expecting. In place of the blinding flash and rush of heat that he was introduced to fairly often in his line of work, instead he was met with an explosion by only the loosest association, technically the first of its kind ever produced and unfortunately not to be the last.
As the plasma bolt shattered the glass, everything went a bit strange. All the light emptied the room in the same manner of townsfolk in an old western, when a bloke with a dastardly moustache and an eyepatch steps into the saloon. The temperature in the room decided to leave too, replaced by a deep insidious cold. Harrington felt it wash over his body, he was sensible and dressed in layers but the cold penetrated him regardless. Frozen to the bone but feeling no pain, a frost with no bite. Harrington closed his eyes tight, waiting for the bang that never came. Sound had also decided to bugger off at this point, wanting no part in this weirdness. In fact, almost all of Harrington senses seemed to have wandered away.
Disconnected from his own body like an estranged father, Harrington knew it had to be somewhere but seemed to have no interest in finding out where. This was all new to Harrington, any points of reference were probably to be found in some very expensive halugionegics, but since he preferred a clear head at all times, the closest experience he could think of was when his bum used to fall asleep during long bike rides. Now his whole existence had fallen asleep and wasn’t about to wake up with a few general cheek squeezes; it was all very puzzling.
Panic seemed like the correct course of action but even that was too distant a concept to imagine. All he was left with were questions existing around his conscious, fishing lines of thought floating on the ether, hopelessly waiting for a bite from the emptiness. Where am I? what am I? what is this? why am I still hungry? Nothingness can be very shocking especially when you’re aware enough to be shocked by it.
Time passed, in which direction was unclear but the ebb was unmistakeable, ripples pulsed across his mind. He hoped that meant he wasn’t dead yet. An afterlife sounded exhausting, he was perfectly happy with just the one life; anything more seemed indulgent, which was partly why he never sided with any religions, not even the ones with the really fancy hats. He had however, always been quite receptive to the idea of non-existence, it struck him as rather relaxing. This wasn’t relaxing, he imagined that this is what a crouton felt like as it sank gently into the folds of a particularly creamy soup, it was a feeling that was making the current manifestation of the abstract concept of Harrington quite cross.
A name? someone or something called out to him; from the depths of nothing echoed a name. It flashed across his mind burning its way into his memory, nestling down behind his oldest thoughts, between forgotten faces and lost summers sinking deep into Harrington, until it was gone.
With a sharp snap, a reluctant reality suddenly started rushing back to Harrington. Remembering he had eyes, they opened and focused on the now empty container sparking wildly into the gas filled air. Smashed glass filled the floor like the result of a sudden and unexpectedly hefty hailstorm, every other second, a red light burned his eyes.
Sound came back with a vengeance, a piercing siren drilled into his head. His body too, drifted back, acknowledging once more the demands of his senses and made him aware of a dull pain in his left hand and right leg.
Blinking, Harrington gathered his bearings. The room was in more of a state than he’d first thought, pipes were wrenched from the walls, dangerous looking liquids were pooling around the floor. Several engineers were face down motionless and a couple were quietly weeping. One however was repeatedly kicking Harrington’s leg with a bewildered and pitied look plastered across his smouldering face. Instinct did its job and Harrington punched the engineer square in the face toppling him backwards onto the smokey floor.
“Ouch.” cried Harrington as a sharp pain spread over his hand. On closer inspection, he saw it was closed around something so tight his knuckles were bone white. Almost creaking as they opened, within his vice like grip, was the vial of exotic matter. Refusing to be concerned about what had just happened, he slid the vial carefully into a pocket and made for the door shaking his hand and grimacing as he left.
Emerging in the corridor Harrington was met with a hail of lasers. He ducked back into the engine room before he could be vaporised.
“COME OUT AND GET SHOT, OR WE’LL COME IN AND SHOOT” yelled a voice, presumably one involved in the laser barrage.
Harrington considered this, he was well aware of the standard Death Trooper motto of ‘shoot first, then keep shooting.’ To them, negotiation was just something you tried while reloading.
“STAY BACK, I’VE GOT A HOSTAGE.” yelled Harrington, assuming at least one of the engineers were still alive but not wanting to check.
“NO YOU DON’T.” came the response
“YES I DO”
“WHAT’S HIS NAME THEN?”
Harrington turned back to look at the engineer he’d just punched, a sad figure now crawling around pathetically moaning.
“Oi you, what’s your name” demanded Harrington pointing at the man.
“…Richard” said Richard
“Thanks,… HIS NAME’S RICHARD” yelled Harrington.
“ I DON’T KNOW A RICHARD…… WAIT HOLD ON”
Harrington decided to leave the conversation at this point, he was a man of little words and didn’t fancy his chances anyway. Instead he tried to find a pipe whose structural integrity wasn’t in shatters.
“NOBODY HERE KNOWS ANY RICHARD,…WAIT HOLD ON… CHRIS SAYS HE KNOWS A ROBERT, DID YOU MEAN ROBERT? HELLO?”
No answer came; Harrington was already 13 feet up a hydraulic pipe, on his way to a potential escape in the rafters.
“HELLO….HELLO. RIGHT THAT’S IT….HOLD ON ROBERT, WERE COMING”
As the assault team burst into the room, Harrington was putting the last screw back on the air duct, he silently crawled through the darkness making 2 mental notes, first to never think about what happened in the room and secondly to ask for a raise.