Instinct or experience?
Ethan’s voice rang out in the empty command room. He waited for a few seconds, waiting for a reply, but nothing happened.
He sighed. This was the last place; he had checked everywhere else in the complex. If Lawrence didn’t turn up soon, he would have to invoke emergency measures – which he didn’t really want to do right now.
Ethan walked across to his seat, sliding into the cubicle easily. He looked down at the blank screens, hoping for any signs of life that would mean Lawrence was sending a message to explain his sudden absence.
There wasn’t one. Ethan depressed the button, triggering the screens and turning them back on. Although the computers were never turned off for security reasons, the display screens were rigged onto an emergency-only mode to save power.
The displays whirred into life, and Ethan sat down, flipping the keyboard, waiting for the computer to finish booting.
It didn’t take long. Ethan quickly navigated his way into the rare-scenarios section, entering the relevant commands to trigger a data deletion in the event that Lawrence did not turn up or send a confirmation message within the next forty eight hours.
He had just finished when Evan walked in, the hydraulic doors swishing shut behind him.
“Lawrence still hasn’t appeared then?”
“No,” said Ethan, still looking down at the whirl of information. “I engaged the data deletion. It’s probably going to turn up unnecessary, but let’s just err on the safe side this time. After the information leakage a week ago.”
“Mhm,” agreed Evan. “Where the hell do you think Lawrence is, actually?”
Ethan hesitated, standing up and making sure to not look Evan in the eye. “Probably out somewhere and forgotten to call back,” he mumbled.
“That’s not like him, though. You know that, Ethan.”
“I really have no idea,” said Ethan heavily. He avoided Evan’s eyes as he passed his brother. “I’m going to get something to drink. See you.”
Ethan felt Evan grasp him by the elbow. He was spun off course, and crashing into Evan’s chest – they stayed there for a moment, in each other’s embrace, until Ethan broke away.
“I can’t, Evan. Not today.”
Evan looked slightly surprised as Ethan stepped through the security doors.
“It’s not going to work, you know,” commented Lawrence dryly. He yawned as Ryan ignored him, continuing to tap away at the laptop keyboard.
Lawrence observed him for a moment through wide, exhausted eyes. “Ethan’s a master at security programming. Even I can’t beat him. So I doubt you can.”
Ryan didn’t say anything.
Lawrence just closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but it wouldn’t come. And he knew why. He was with Ryan – Ryan! – the convicted murderer, the almost-always-top-of-the-class student, the laughing, enjoyable companion, the trustable friend… all these identities came back to Lawrence, who had buried them under everything else five years ago.
Oh gods, Ryan. Why are you back?
“Where’s Jerome and Austin?” asked Lawrence suddenly, remembering.
“I’m glad you asked,” said Ryan sarcastically. “Jerome and Austin are fine, currently chilling out in one of the cleaner rooms, and by chilling; I mean it in the literal term.”
Lawrence felt his blood go cold. “You didn’t – you didn’t…”
Ryan looked up, an evil, sinister smile taking over his face. “Yeah, I did.”
This was not good. Not the refrigerators. No.
Ryan didn’t seem even remotely concerned, but he sensed Lawrence’s unbelieving gaze. He sighed. “There are always causalities in a war, Lawrence.”
“So that’s what you make this, Ryan? A war between two conflicting sides?”
“Anyone who thinks I’m insane becomes my enemy.”
“Is that really your philosophy?” questioned Lawrence. He had to do this; he had to force Ryan to the very edge, so that he would collapse and Lawrence could escape. And there was always the slightest chance that Ethan could trace the hackings back here.
“Yes, it is.”
“Okay then. Then tell me why you need to get into our servers; specifically, my team’s servers.”
“I want to know where all the missiles are, and their launch codes.”
Lawrence would have smacked himself on the forehead if his wrists were not bound. Of course; it made so much sense. Ryan could use any of their ground- and space-based missiles and hit anywhere in the world, with no evidence at all. It was the perfect weapon, as well as the perfect defence system – being an international organisation; they often needed something like this to protect their interests.
“Tell me when you find out,” said Lawrence, nodding off to sleep. He didn’t care about much anymore – except, perhaps, Jerome and Austin.
There was slightly more clicking, then everything suddenly stopped.
Lawrence cracked open on eyelid, looking at Ryan slouched on his black laptop. He opened both eyes and raised an eyebrow, wondering how the hell Ryan just passed out in this sealed room.
His question was answered by a painful headache and the desire to throw up.
Carbon monoxide. The most potent killer on earth. Colourless, odourless, it causes headaches and nausea within three hours to a few minutes, depending on the concentration. Carbon monoxide must be leaking through the ventilation system; Lawrence knew that he was going to pass out in a few seconds, but he couldn’t do anything about it, not now, not when bound…
He thought he could hear birds singing, but that would be impossible… but yes, that was definitely chirping, and was that the wind rustling past his ear? Lawrence couldn’t tell… he tried to open his eyes but nothing was happening… there were unrecognisable noises in his ear now, which seemed like a combination of music, atmospheric noise and a constant buzzing…
“Oi, Lawrence, wake up.”
Lawrence stirred, still suffering from post carbon monoxide poisoning. He faintly registered the oxygen mask over his face, forcing pressurised oxygen into his lungs. Something – or someone – was slapping at his cheek gently, and he reluctantly pulled himself from unconsciousness and opened his eyes ever so slightly.
Evan – or Ethan, Lawrence couldn’t tell – blurred into focus, his light brown eyes peering into Lawrence’s own uncertainly.
“Where’s Jerome?” blurted Lawrence, voicing the first thought that came into his mind.
Evan looked taken aback. “Isn’t he with you?” he asked.
“No,” said Lawrence simply. He looked around, wringing his red wrists. He ripped off the plastic mask, drawing an angry hiss from the tank, and saw that Ryan had a similar one strapped – more than likely Evan had pumped carbon monoxide into the room. He stood up, tipping as he realised he must have had been sitting for several hours.
Evan was alone with Lawrence and Ryan, but Lawrence didn’t care. He immediately plunged out into the hallway outside, fumbling along the wall as he searched for the refrigeration room. It couldn’t be too far – Ryan would have put them in the same building, at any rate.
He stumbled into a kitchen and realised that Jerome and Austin must be around there somewhere, because refrigerators were generally put near the kitchens… right?
If Lawrence had been concentrating properly, he might have applauded at the sheer neatness of the sleek kitchen. The knives were cheekily supported in firm, wooden racks; the chopping boards were stowed away in cabinets; the plates were either above the workspaces, waiting quietly in the space between the lamps and the ceiling, or piled up by the dry, shiny sink, arranged by size and looking uniformly white.
Lawrence managed to make his way towards the large, safe-like door, knowing that it was the cooling room – where raw ingredients were kept – and supported himself with the handle.
He turned it, but the door didn’t move. Lawrence had expected no less, but he was exhausted, and he couldn’t find any energy to think past any traps Ryan might have placed. He went for the simple option – pull open the door as hard as possible.
It took several, painstaking efforts before the heavy metal door finally began to move. A mist of white smoke billowed out from the open gap, but was quickly whipped away by the cold breeze. Lawrence actually felt the air rush over him, a chilling feeling which relaxed Lawrence’s muscles and made him sleepy.
He pushed the door open further, feeling the ice crystals under his bare palm. Ryan must have set the temperature lower – but a quick glance at the temperature gauge gave a quick reading of two degrees centigrade – and if they hadn’t been trapped for long, Jerome and Austin might have a chance.
His free hand searched for a switch and turned it on, igniting an internal lamp in the refrigerator room and setting a frozen Jerome and Austin into view.
Lawrence swore as he dropped to their side, grasping around for a pulse. Their pale skin, blue lips and purpled nails informed Lawrence that they were suffering from moderate level hypothermia – the second level of responses for cold body temperatures.
The best course of action would be to warm them up with some external heat source, Lawrence knew, so he dragged the two unconscious bodies out into the warmer kitchen and wrapped them around himself tightly, letting his own body heat warm them up.
Lawrence stayed put for what seemed like an age, unaware of passing time, only feeling for the steadily increasing heartbeats in Jerome and Austin, and knew that they were going to be all right.
Then he passed out, his head lolling forward onto Austin’s shoulder. The three of them, still unconscious, fell onto the tiled kitchen floor, snuggled close together, for another few hours before Evan found them and took them back to base.
“Hot chocolate, Lawrence?”
Lawrence took the chocolate from Ethan and held it close to his own body. “Thanks, but you know I like coffee more, Ethan.”
Ethan sat down, looking worried. “Sorry, but you’ve just been banned from drinking coffee for the next two weeks. Medical training coming in handy.”
Lawrence took a sip of the sweet, murky brown liquid, noting how much it looked like Ethan’s eyes. He let his face form into a puzzled expression when he registered Ethan’s questioning look. “What?”
“I was just wondering how you knew that they were there,” said Ethan simply.
Lawrence remained silent for a little while, pondering his answer. He spun the cup around as he formulated a response.
“I suppose… it was just a… an instinctive reaction,” he finished. “It’s when you know something by instinct.”
“By instinct or by experience?” asked Ethan.
Lawrence looked up sharply. Ethan couldn’t know, could he? He had made sure he covered up his tracks, destroyed all the evidence… no, Ethan didn’t know anything about that. “By instinct,” repeated Lawrence.
Ethan still looked doubtful as he left Lawrence sitting in the bed, the hospital wing doors closing as he left.
Lawrence calmed his breathing rate as he looked over to his right, where Jerome and Austin lay peacefully, sleeping.
Free from the burdens that Lawrence had to face.