PREVIOUSLY: Professor Ludlum and the Bradfords, retired members of the secret scientific research organization were attacked by another former member, Mitch Howitzer, who has apparently gone insane. While the Professor and friends manage to scare Howitzer off, they realize that they need to get away before he comes back for more. Meanwhile, in the labs of said organization, Danny Colt found that one of the elder scientists is mowing down his colleagues. Danny ran away.
There was a pleasant ‘Ding’ as the elevator doors opened. Danny got in quickly and pressed the Close Door button even before even choosing a destination floor. As the elevator began to rise Danny tried to get his thoughts in order. What was going on? Things were moving too quickly. He’d gone down to the Animal Labs to talk to Liu. But Liu wasn’t there. Then Danny saw Frank Atkins, but he was acting all messed up. And he said he killed Liu! And Carver and Weinberg too! Atkins was killing people! What the Hell is that about?
“Shit, man,” Danny said.
The doors opened and he was on floor eight, the Energy Labs. As he stepped out of the elevator, Danny noticed the quiet. There was almost always an electric hum on this floor. An electronic hum? Electrical hum? Danny didn’t know which it was, but he didn’t hear it now.
Danny went to the first door and knocked. It was Dr. Carmichael’s lab. No answer. He tried to open it and found it locked. “Doesn’t mean anything,” he thought to himself. “Carmichael probably just went to take a dump and didn’t want anyone messing with his computer.”
Danny turned from the door and hesitated. He decided against checking the rest of the labs. He ran to his own and went inside. He locked the door behind him.
Bradford unlocked the wall safe and swung it open. It was located behind the mirror in the bedroom that he and Judith shared on the second floor of their home. He hadn’t opened it since the day he’d first closed it as they moved into this home. Inside was a plastic box, which he removed and placed in the suitcase, which lay open on the bed.
“You’re wearing your black suit?”
Bradford turned and saw his wife smiling at him from the doorway. “Yes,” he said. “We’ve a long journey ahead and I felt it might be best if I didn’t smell like urine.”
“I like the black suit. It makes you look mysterious. How’s the packing going?”
“Perhaps well, perhaps not. If I told you, it would kill the mystery.”
Judith walked into the room and put a hand on his arm. He gestured to the bed. “I’ve filled one suitcase with clothes and partially completed another with odds and ends. You?”
“I borrowed the Professor’s briefcase and emptied the closet, the silverware and the towels into it before it started getting a little too heavy. I’ve also got a box at the bottom of the stairs with a few other things from the kitchen in it.”
“Right. I guess we’ll not be making any second trips, so it would probably be smart to destroy the house behind us. We’ve got some equipment here that we should not leave around for anyone to find.”
“Yeah. On the way out I’ll activate the house’s suicide switch.”
Once Bradford had finished filling the second suitcase, the couple carried the luggage down the stairs, into the foyer. Judith looked out the front door as Bradford excused himself to get the filing computer that contained all of their files.
Outside Judith could see the Professor standing in the middle of a crowd of a least two dozen people. Though a trio of large men in police uniforms were asking the questions, the Professor addressed his replies to the whole crowd using large gestures. He was telling them a story.
Judith watched until her husband came back with the computer and placed it with the rest of luggage. He followed her gaze and saw the Professor engaging in a mock gunfight.
“He’s still got it, hasn’t he?”
Eventually, the crowd thinned and the policemen turned and headed back to their cars and the Professor began walking back to the house. After a few steps he turned and got the attention of the officers. Smiling and pointing at the sky he said something and the officers broke into a fit of laughter. The Professor waved and watched the policemen drive away.
The Professor came back inside. “Right,” he said, “that was fun.” He saw the pile of items in the foyer. “You think you can get all this into that ancient car of yours?”
Bradford looked at the luggage and grimaced. Then, looking back at the Professor, he said “I’m confident that we’ll manage.”
“Right. So is this it?”
Judith sighed. “It seems a shame to leave so many experiments behind, but we’ve no choice. We’ll take Rex, of course, but this is probably all we can carry.”
“In that case,” said the Professor, “I’ll get my dog, Judith gets the computer, Bradford gets the car and then it’s time to go.”
Danny inhaled, held the smoke in his lungs for a moment, then exhaled through his nose. He was sitting at his desk finishing a joint. He’d placed his notebook on top of the pile of papers on his desk and opened the filing cabinet that contained his stash as soon as he’d locked the door. The ventilation system was not operating and a grey haze now surrounded him. He could hear no sound from beyond the door.
This long rectangular lab contained Daniel Colt’s entire life. The desk he currently sat behind was in the corner to the left of the door. He considered this his office. Flanked by two filing cabinets and plastic boxes, the desk was in a constant state of disarray, with papers and circuitry left to form piles on any flat surface. A black plastic wastebasket next to the desk was half filled with empty pudding containers. A “Krorion the Robot-Monk” action figure stuck a Kung-Fu pose on the filing cabinet to Danny’s left.
On the wall behind the desk were several framed photographs, the largest of which showing Professor Herbert Ludlum smiling and holding his custom modified shotgun above his head in triumph. When this photo was taken the Professor still had some of his black hair and his thick dark eyebrows. Next to him was the small shape of fourteen year-old Danny Colt, also smiling. It was Africa, sixteen years ago. They had just stopped a group of Australian scientists from using genetically engineered Rhinocero-Men as a world-conquering army. Those were good days, Danny often thought.
Another of the photos, taken five years earlier than that, in 1983, showed the founders of the Organization Devoted to Extraordinary Scientific Ideas; Atkins, Chambers, Churchill, Howitzer, Ludlum, and Watanabe. These were Danny’s heroes. They banded together earlier that year and created ODESI to operate in secret outside the jurisdiction of any government.
Most of Danny’s lab was filled with computer terminals which surrounded three test areas. The test areas, currently empty, allowed Danny to scan his force field generators and monitor their functions. Danny hadn’t needed to scan the devices in months because they worked perfectly.
The corner opposite of Danny’s office was Danny’s bedroom. It consisted of a mattress, a dresser, a miniature refrigerator and a television. Danny got up and made his way there. He could still hear no sound from outside.
“Fuck!” Danny kicked the corner of his bed.
Rex was blind, deaf and unable to move. As the computer system that ran operations in the Bradford Mansion, the last thing his cameras had picked up was that strange blur once again moving towards the back of the house, while several unfamiliar black cars drove up the road. Then he had caught a glimpse of an old man in an exoskeleton appearing in front of the power generator just before all the systems had gone down. Without his cameras or his links to the house’s systems, Rex could simply sit in himself and think. And so that’s what he did. He thought about the old man in the exoskeleton and how much he didn’t like him. Anyone who would not show up on cameras until the last second was clearly rude. And he was obviously very mean if he is the kind of person who sneaks up to a home and disables the power so that the computer is unable to see him. Rex figured that the mean old man was attempting to get into the mansion. Rex did not like that idea. Judging by the way the mean person showed up, Rex did not think he was an invited guest. Uninvited guests were the worst kind of people who could enter a home. Rex wished he were not offline so that he could find the mean old man and shoot knockout gas at him. Rex didn’t know what he’d do once the mean old man was unconscious but he was sure he’d think of something. After all, it was Rex who–
Suddenly Rex felt a surge of power. One of his cameras was active again. He could see the basement. Mrs. Judith Bradford was there. He could also hear her talking.
“Rex?” Judith said looking directly into the camera.
“I am here.” Rex’s electric voice sounded weak as it came from a small speaker below the camera. “Are you well? My sensors are inactive and I can not see the rest of your home.”
“We’re okay, Rex. We were attacked, but we were not hurt.”
“I saw the attacker, but he deactivated me before I was able to neutralize him. He was mean. I am sorry.”
“It isn’t your fault. But I have some bad news, we have to leave the Mansion. That means I’ll have to disconnect your brain and it will be offline until we settle somewhere else and we have time to build new equipment for you.”
“I see. I don’t like being disconnected. It is lonely and I am paralyzed.”
“Aww, I know honey, but there’s no other way for us to bring you with us. And we can’t leave you alone here can we?”
“No. I would dislike that many times more. I suppose you must disconnect me, then.”
“Yep. But before I do that, I’ve got something I’ve been working on for you.” She smiled and reached into her pocket and produced a thumb-sized microchip cartridge. Turning around, she sat down at a desk upon which a large metallic case was sitting. She took the cartridge and inserted it into a slot on the case.
“What is that?” questioned Rex.
“I was saving it until your birthday, but it’ll be more useful now. I programmed a bunch of arcade games for you. I’m going to add them to the files in your brain, and you’ll be able to use them even when you are offline. And let me tell you, I had to be creative to come up with games that would appeal to a computer-mind.”
Rex noticed the files as they appeared in his brain. “Thank you so very much.”
“You’re so very welcome,” Judith smiled at the camera. “Now, I’m sorry to say it, but we’re in a hurry. I’m going to have to say goodnight.”
Rex’s unblinking camera eye watched as Judith opened the metallic case and revealed his brain, a black cube within. Her hand hovered over a switch. Rex’s voice said, “I will see you.” And her finger moved.
Rex was unable to move or see again, but now he was not worried. Everything was well and Mrs. Judith Bradford would wake him up when they got where they were going. Meanwhile, Rex could occupy himself with his new games, so that is what he did.
Danny slung his backpack over his shoulders and picked up his suitcase. He’d packed only the things that couldn’t be replaced. His movie collection, his stash, his action figures, his photographs, some scientific sketches, and the clothes he liked enough to keep. The rest of his life he’d leave behind. He could buy new socks and a new bed and a new television when he needed it. His bankcard would sustain him easily for a few years.
There was still no sound from outside the office. He picked up a force field generator. It looked like a huge laser gun from a comic book or cartoon. Most of the design was unnecessary, but Danny liked to, whenever possible, make his inventions look like things from science fiction cartoons. And now, he thought, it was a good thing he did, because it made the generator easier to carry. It also had also a strap that went around his shoulder, so he could let it hang when he needed a free hand.
Danny stood for a moment at his door. In his mind he saw Atkins on the opposite side, waiting for it to open. Waiting to stab Danny in the eye with a pen or something. Danny thought of putting his ear to the door, but then imagined Atkins’s hand breaking through and grabbing him by the throat. So he just stood.
The Shotgun Professor wouldn’t have stood there. In the good old days the Professor would have kicked the door open and shot Atkins in both his knees.
Danny inhaled. He kicked the door.
The door didn’t move. Danny kicked again.
The door didn’t move. Danny’s foot was sore.
“Dammit,” he muttered. “What is your problem?” he asked the door. After a moment he realized that the door swung inward. He pulled it open. Nobody was there. Raising the generator, Danny went carefully through the door. The hallway was empty. He didn’t hear a sound all the way back to the elevator.
Then the elevator doors opened. Danny took aim. He saw a gun. Someone large stepped out of the elevator. It was Chad Beals. Chad briefly raised his gun, but lowered it when he saw Danny.
“Danny? You okay?”
“So far,” Danny lowered his generator. “What the hell’s going on?”
Chad’s twin brother Corey stepped out behind him. “It’s Atkins,” he said. “He decided that the organization needs some new blood, and he’s decided to get rid of the old blood first. He sealed off the exits and now he’s just wandering around killing us all.”
Danny noticed other scientists in the elevator. Matt Warsaw held the door open, Susan Ford was tinkering with some device and Mary Stuart impatiently played with a pistol. “Have you see anyone else on this floor?” Chad asked Danny.
“No. I mean, I haven’t noticed anyone.”
Chad looked at Corey and pointed down the hall. Corey ran to Carmichael’s door and knocked. No answer. Danny watched as Corey disappeared down the hall, checking every door on the way.
“So what are we doing?” he asked Chad.
“We’re finding everyone we can, then heading to the main doors. Mary thinks she can get them open.”
“Is this everyone you’ve found? We’re all that’s left?”
“We’ve got a few more floors to check, but…” Chad looked upward to Heaven. “This started in the cafeteria. A lot of people got together for Rico’s birthday party today. It looks like Atkins showed up and started killing. The place is a mess. He must’ve used some kind of laser to just mow through the crowd. There’s at least twenty people there who’ve been cut to pieces. Can’t even tell who’s who.”
Corey ran back down the hall. “Place is empty.”
“Let’s go then,” Chad got back into the elevator. Corey and Danny followed.
As they continued to search each floor, three more survivors joined the group. They made their way to the ground floor and through the large lobby. When they came to the large glass doors Mary knelt to access the wiring system. The Beals Brothers stood over her as the rest of the group checked the lobby for any sign of life. Danny left his suitcase by the door as he walked to the security console. The monitor was black, the cameras were apparently not functioning. Turning around, Danny saw Matt Warsaw’s head explode.
The Ford Taurus was cramped. Bradford drove, Judith sat beside him with some luggage and Rex’s Brain on her lap. The Professor and Sissy-Mary sat in the back and there was luggage strapped to the roof. Howitzer watched unseen as the elderly car started down the road towards the highway. Behind them all, Bradford Mansion began the automated process of destroying itself.
Atkins walked calmly into the lobby of the ODESI building; his normally white suit now largely a brownish red. He passed the oozing heap that was once Matt Warsaw’s body. He was wearing a large metal gauntlet on his right hand around which the air rippled from heat.
“Hello everyone,” he said. He raised his mental-encased hand and slowly gestured around the room with it, as if waving. Everyone in the room recognized the device and struggled to keep from being pointed at. The Beals brothers opened fire simultaneously, their shells ricocheting off of Atkins’s suit.
Atkins smirked. He made a fist with the gauntlet and pointed at Mary, who after being distracted had turned back to the doors and was working frantically to get them open. Corey Beals moved to get between Atkins and Mary, and his knee burst into flame. He screamed and Chad knelt down to help him. All the other scientists who were armed opened fire on Atkins. One of Susan Ford’s bullets grazed the madman’s head and blood flowed forth.
Atkins still smirked as he turned his heat-ray gauntlet on another of the survivors, who went up in flame. Danny realized he couldn’t remember the man’s name as he watched the smoldering body fall lifeless to the ground. Danny knew what he needed to do, but was in the wrong position to do it. He had ducked behind the security desk when the Beals Brothers fired, but now he needed to be closer to Atkins.
He waved to get Susan’s attention. After a few moments she looked his way. He mouthed the words ‘cover me’ and she nodded. He’d always liked Susan. She had a great rack. Susan stood up straight and fired several shots into Atkins’s chest. Danny leapt from his position and skidded along the tiled floor until he was on his side only meters in front of Atkins. He raised his force field generator and pushed the trigger button.
Now Atkins was on one side of the force field and the survivors were on the other. Susan ran to check on the Beals Brothers while Mary continued her work. Danny placed his generator on the floor and let it maintain its field. Everyone else aimed weapons at the man on the other side.
“Well done, children, but escaping from this building will not end your problems. Even if you somehow manage to avoid me, Howitzer is out there somewhere. He will find you.”
They all stood in silence, save for the painful hisses that Corey would let out as his wound was dressed. Several minutes passed before Mary got the doors open. Chad and Susan helped Corey out first and the others followed until only Danny was left outside the force field.
Danny looked at Atkins. He was still smirking. Blood was dripping down his forehead and into his left eye.
“What happened, man?” Danny asked. “Why’d you have to do this? You were a great man.”
“Why, Mr. Colt? It’s simple. You and your colleagues have outlived your usefulness. You’ve all grown old. The young blood is coming. I’m merely making room.”
“That’s it? Making room? Well, fuck you, man.”
Picking up his suitcase, Danny walked out the door and never saw the old man again.
NEXT TIME: A Night on the Town
Patrick D Ryall, the D is for When
Originally posted on Contains2 on Wednesday 31 March 2004