Level Five, Self Survival
Lawrence heard the scuffling through the thin walls.
“I suppose they’re doing it again, aren’t they?” he muttered. He rolled down his sleeve and treaded silently back out into the workshop.
Lawrence ignored the pair of them and stepped through another door, climbing up the flight of stairs. He tried to block out Ethan’s moaning, and resorted to clamping his hands over his ears as he scrambled away from the twins.
None of them talked when they were all around; at least, not much. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t proper… but Lawrence doubted that he even had the right to talk about what was proper anymore. After that incident. After when his life fell apart. And all those years trying to create a new one.
And now, how he has to live both of them now.
Lawrence literally ran into the toilet stalls, hooking his bag onto the weak doors and diving into it for his spare clothes.
“This is going to turn out ugly,” he said. “That can’t be happening.”
“I suppose that you still want me in the mission?” Lawrence asked.
“Yes,” said a cold, high voice. “I do.”
“I thought… I thought that everything was over.”
“It is,” said the same cold voice softly. “But I’m going to need you again. Everyone is.”
“What if I don’t want to do it, James?”
James sighed. “Lawrence, you were always a difficult one. You know that none of us can stop you. But you’re going to do it anyway, aren’t you?”
Lawrence paused, looking around at the dimly lit conference room. Most of the team would have left ages ago. The black seats were cool to the touch, and the wide, brown desk separated him from the James sitting at the other side.
“I know that.”
James smiled. “I hope you won’t work against us. For once, Lawrence, try to think things from our view.”
Lawrence said nothing. He didn’t need to.
James sighed and stood up, the chair scraping on the floor. “I’ll be seeing you then, Lawrence.”
Lawrence kept his face hidden as James passed him.
Lawrence swore as he plunged back out of the toilet, bag flying. This couldn’t be happening. Base couldn’t be calling him.
He pulled out a mobile phone and flipped it open as he raced down the stairs.
“Yeah?” asked the sleepy voice across the line.
“Get the car ready. I’m coming back in.”
There was some spluttering through the phone. “Say that again,” said Ethan, his voice alert.
“I’m coming back in,” shouted Lawrence. He shoved the mobile phone back onto his belt.
There were more shouts from the ladies sitting at the reception desk, but Lawrence was too swift for both of them to do anything more than stand up before he was gone.
Lawrence strapped on his bag, listening for the click that informed him the belts were latched one. In one graceful movement, he pushed off with his feet and opened the throttle.
The glider unfolded in the air, and the engine slotted into place. It coughed for a second, then caught, and began to speed Lawrence into the air. He glided from the long pavement and pulled up sharply to avoid a collision with the residential walls.
The glider was actually a quite ingenious invention. It was a lightweight flying device, cleverly designed with set joints to fold easily and slide into a hidden compartment of the bag. The aluminum frame provided most of the structural support, and instead of traditional cloth, most of the wings were covered in a fine, woven piece of thinned acrylic that was much more durable.
The engine was Ethan’s idea. The glider itself was extremely efficient, with the bag taking most of the support, but the engine allowed for almost unlimited flying. Ethan spent hours poring over designs, trying to think of a propeller that would not interfere with the bag’s workings while able to produce enough thrust to lift Lawrence into the air. He came up with a water moved design that almost made Lawrence cry with pleasure. A series of pipes were drilled into the support and water was poured carefully into it. The idea was that whenever the bag was moved, or a change of momentum took place, the water would slosh around and drive the engine. In short, there was now an environmentally friendly and light way to fly forever.
Lawrence let the control bar drop slightly, letting the nose climb. Most of the control was provided with two weights, one horizontal, one vertical, that slid on bars and were commanded by thin wires connected to the control bar. With a quick movement of the arms, Lawrence could move the weights, adjusting the balance of the glider in flight and, ever so remotely, change direction.
The mobile phone rang again. Lawrence tapped the control bar and a hologram appeared, projected by the tiny camera-like objects attached to the sides.
“Incoming call,” said the cold female computer voice.
A side panel informed Lawrence that he was now flying at twenty five hundred feet. The phone icon continued to shake, pulling him out of his flight lust, and he spoke.
The call was instantly connected; instead of coming in through the traditional cellular network, it was connected by satellite and beamed back down to the flying Lawrence.
“Lawrence, what the hell is up with you?”
Austin’s voice rang loudly through the tiny speakers. The microphone was situated at the back of the bag, which made communication difficult, but Lawrence raised his voice over the wailing wind.
“What’s up, Austin?”
That was a good statement – calm, smoothing, and utterly remorseless. It gave nothing away, and irritated however was on the receiving end of the question; something that was more likely to throw them off topic. Especially if it was a topic that Lawrence didn’t want to discuss.
Austin was not that easily sidetracked, however. “What are you thinking, leaving like that? Ms Tandy was in hysterics. There’s talk of you being suspended and everything – what the hell is up with you?”
Lawrence sighed. He looked down at the passing scenery, and realised that he was rapidly approaching his destination. “I’ll talk with you later, okay?”
Without waiting for a reply, he terminated the call, knowing that he would regret that later. But now there were more pressing matters in his mind – he dipped the control and bent into a dive towards the landing pad.
Landing on a glider was always difficult. When you’ve got an engine attached to the back, the complexity increases. Lawrence was coming down too fast, his dive angle too deep, for a traditional running stop. He swore as he pushed the control bar, going for the more unorthodox rolling crash.
The glider rolled to the side, and Lawrence desperately shoved the control bar to the other direction. The weight slid too fast for the glider to respond naturally, and so it flipped, giving Lawrence a quick glance of the cloudless, bright sky above him before he fell.
The landing pad was on Lawrence’s roof – it could only be seen when activated, and Ethan had done so from the inside. Several flashing lights illuminated the spot, and Lawrence knew where he had to touch down without breaking anything. That very reinforced point.
He was falling backwards; rapidly losing speed… the hologram flickered and shifted in front of him as turbulence butted the glider. They rolled back into the normal configuration, but in the middle of a stall – dropping rapidly and heading perfectly for that bright red light.
“Good,” whispered Lawrence to nobody in particular. He braced his legs for the impact.
His foot came into contact with the concrete. He bent his legs to absorb the force of the landing as he retracted the wings, folding them neatly into the compartment of the backpack.
Ethan came running out of the metal door that led inside. “I got the message from base,” he said, pulling off Lawrence’s bag. “I don’t think we should do it though!”
Lawrence walked quickly, flicking the switches as he passed them on the doorframe. The lights flashed one last time before dying out. “We have to, Ethan,” he said quietly.
“I suppose so.”
“Engaging level three protection systems,” said the computer dryly.
Lawrence tapped the screen impatiently. The control room was a spacious, brightly lit, modern space that radiated a sense of purpose. To most people, it looked like a scaled down mission control centre, without the crowded technicians shouting around. Instead, there was only Evan, Ethan, and Lawrence as they stared up at the large displays at the front.
The screen at the left showed a series of panels, each of them labelled with a status code. At the moment, most of the security systems were disabled, although several were coloured red, signalling a ‘danger’ condition. The centre screen showed a map of the entire complex, with labels and arrows all over the place, and the current protection system – level one – written clearly at the top. The right hand screen was blank except for the scrolling codes that made sense to anyone who programmed the control centre computers.
Lawrence let his eyes drop down to his workplace. The keyboard was locked in place on his chair, and the smaller monitors constantly updated him on the status of the complex. He knew that Evan and Ethan were receiving the same information.
The lights flashed for an instant, a momentary darkness taking over the room.
The central console refreshed, and now displayed a level three protection system. One by one, the doors locks, the security systems armed themselves, and the control centre was isolated.
Control Centre: Locked
“I hate how this is so long,” said Ethan over the headset.
Lawrence didn’t even stop typing as he replied. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” he said, depressing the talk button at the bottom left of the keyboard.
“Just shut up. There are three more minutes to launch.” Evan was irritated, and as one, the three of them looked up to the centre screen, where a large countdown had taken the place of the map.
“Erm, guys?” asked Ethan uncertainly.
“I think the barriers have just been infringed.”
Lawrence wheeled around to look at the security panel. Sure enough, the protection system was flashing urgently.
Control Centre: Isolated
“Great,” said Lawrence. “How did that happen?”
One of the monitors told him everything that he needed to know. The security cameras wheeled and displayed a supposedly empty house corridor.
Austin and Jerome walked quietly out of sight.
“I’ll go treat this,” said Lawrence, tapping a button on the armrest and standing up. “Evan, release the doors.”
He threaded the headset out of his hair and nodded at Ethan, who returned to his typing.
Lawrence strolled over to the main doors, which hissed as Evan remotely deactivated the lock. They opened on hydraulic pumps, and Lawrence stepped through them, emerging into the living quarters beyond. The doors automatically shut.
The living quarters, as they are properly called, is the section of the complex that most visitors ever get access to. It was smoothly designed, with whitewashed walls and expensive paintings lining them. Every so often, there was a small bookshelf, packed with copies of… well, everything, and the lights were carefully chosen.
Lawrence hurried down the long hallway, dragging a jacket off a nearby hanger and putting it on. He knew where Austin and Jerome were – the question was how fast he could find them before the self survival system engaged.
He turned around a corridor and saw the two figures standing motionless, the lasers wheeling around for attack.
“No!” he screamed, throwing himself forwards.
The deadly lasers activated.