Chapter 2

Alexander took his last step up.

Half in, half out of the doorway, time slowed down for him as big-boned Allen turned his head to the side – an expression of disbelief plastered all over his face.  The room became electrified with motion as a group of gunmen descended upon them from the corners of the small area.  Alex witnessed as Allen drew a pistol from his coat and fired into one man who had bludgeoned the quiet German with the butt of a rifle.  Before another round could go off, the big one was laid about the back with the stock of an Mp-40 sub-machinegun.

Before Alex could compose a proper reaction a solid object smashed into his mouth from the side of his vision, caving in his teeth on the left side.  The force of the blow sent him hurtling backwards down the stairwell as shock immediately disengaged his mind from his body.  Falling head-over-heels, he landed halfway down the flight.  Landing on his right elbow and shoulder, legs propped awkwardly against his body by the narrow railing, his hearing became blurred and his sight turned gray.  And yet his thoughts felt as free, fast, and functional as they normally were, as if he were trapped in his own skull.  He resigned to himself that he would pass out, but the sensation of shock simply held him in it’s grip.  After a very short moment (though it felt like hours) he experienced a quick flush of tremendous heat throughout his body, though most especially around his face, and he was able to resume control over his body.  Whilst trying to move his jaw he felt as if his gums and lips and bones had been significantly shoved towards the back of his mouth, and a dull throb began pulsing through his face as blood trickled down his chin.

The ordeal left him weak, shaky, and somewhat cold, but he was able to maneuver himself upright on the stairwell as the clambor of guns and fists and elbows and the resulting cries assaulted his hears.  An obscure figure appeared at the entry above as if in response to his recovery, destroying most of the dull light that faded down on him from the open door.  The matte glare of a gun barrel flicked for a split second in front of the figure, and Alex instinctively hurled himself the rest of the way down the stairs, rolling and fumbling, sometimes on two feet, but mostly on all fours.  Three blasts from the firearm pounded into his ears painfully, although the bullets themselves missed entirely, as he made his way down.  Everything subsequently sounded muffled and yet piercingly sharp.  Staggering back into the makeshift test room he dodged for the cover of the generators, at the same time fumbling in the lapel of his coat for the Colt .45 he kept handy.  Before he could make it to cover however, a young man with shortcut facial hair stepped in from the scratch-paint doorway, which was perpendicular to Mueller’s path.  He hadn’t seen this man before either.

An Mp-40 leveled itself at chest height and rent out a sharp tat-tat!  Mueller stumbled, shocked by the two subsequent impacts through his torso.  He made a staggering bolt towards the edge of the generators, desperate for cover, but five more ear-splitting shots rent him from behind.  He keeled over on his back just beside the shelter he’d intended to use, and unintentionally dropped the Colt on the floor nearby.

Firebrands dipped and sawed through his torso as he lay immobile.  Though they formed a singular mass of pain for the most part he could still distinguish the individual lances of searing nerves from each wound.  All of them had landed in his gut and abdominal area, but had thankfully missed the backbone and lungs.  The shock of each impact, however, had largely numbed him from that area and down, even though he luckily maintained the functionality of his limbs.  He gasped as the throbbing arched, but otherwise managed to keep his breathing somewhat balanced.  Hot blood soaked through the coat, warming him on the outside but slowly cooling him from the inside.

The young man came into view above him and shoved the muzzle of the Mp-40 into his gut (which nearly made him pass out again for the pain and the additional winding) whilst confiscating the .45 lying close at hand.  The voice of another man sounded from behind, or rather from above, as Mueller lay flat on his back.  It sounded deep and somehow pale, if a visual property could ever be applied to a sound.
“What do you want with this one?”  The voice was somewhat distant but clear.
“Throw him in, let’s see how it works.”  The visible man replied, no detectable accent in his voice.

Without another word, the one behind grabbed Alex by the arms and began hauling him towards the contraption.  Meuller’s hat fell off but was dragged along with him by the small of his back. Capitulation a void option, it was either fight or flight, and flight was now inviable as well.  He was too weak to run in this state, but he had strength left to be used, if very little.  It would be futile to think he would escape, he knew: but he would take efforts to thwart whoever this was in his final moments, regardless of how slight.  The man dropped Mueller’s arms for a split moment in order to open the hatch of the machine, and then hauled him up by his right arm.  The unexpected pain that stabbed up Alex’s torso due to this made him convulse involuntarily as he regained his footing: he had likely damaged it pretty bad during his fall.  It didn’t stop him, however, from sending a drunken left hook at the pale-voiced man’s head with the base of his palm.  The blow hit true, but did little in effect; the man simply shoved him halfway into the shell as he recovered from the strike.  Alex used his left arm to hold himself haphazardly against the shell, then used the momentum, though it bit sharply into his forearm, to bounce back off of it, taking another swing as the henchman bummed into him as well, trying to shove him down.  This time Alex gave an uppercut to the man’s groin and, hugging him partially, quickly ran the same hand around the back of the man’s waist, grabbing onto a pistol tucked sloppily in his belt.  Alex lurched awkwardly, unable to maintain control of his abdominal muscles, and further grappled with the henchman, unable to push away.  The hat he had dragged along now was stuck on the toe of one of his shoes, also serving to debase his footing.  As Mueller buckled at the waist the henchman finally broke the grapple, seized him by the biceps and harshly shoved him down into the bottom of the capsule.  Before Alex could turn the pilfered gun around in his hands the door was slammed shut.  Alex pitifully rose to his knees and lunged at it, hoping it hadn’t been locked yet, but only succeeded in crunching his shoulder.  He sank down with his back to the door, looking around for some sort of weak point to exploit, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the agony erupting in his mouth, chest, and other regions.  There wasn’t anything that looked like it could truly be disassembled from within, and using the gun in here would only succeed in further injuring or killing himself.  He resigned to staunching the blood that was beginning to pool on the floor and in his inner coat pockets now that he was sitting upright.  Only a lonely array of bluish lights at the top of the vessel illuminated his condition.

Even if there were a weak spot to exploit in the machine, he likely never would have seen it, as his mind was scrambling too fast to make sense of any that might have existed.  All modes of escape exhausted, his thoughts simply drifted to the fear of what would be coming next: the unknown.  Of course it was a prospective transportation machine he was in – an incredible breakthrough of science that so far was boasted to potentially be capable of sending any object that could fit inside from one port to another, regardless of distance – but how would he turn out on the other end, assuming he did at all?  This was the test phase – the one that this small collection of rich guys were willing to pay collateral for in order to witness and be assured a slice of future product.

As images of self-dismemberment and disintegration filtered through his head, he perceived a low whining sound emanating from the entire shell.  Soon it turned into a steady hum, which gradually increased in volume and power so as to make the air vibrate and his very vision buzz.  As the pitch began to reach an ever-increasing crescendo he felt as if he were being rubbed thoroughly by an electric carpet.  A feeling of ants crawling over all of him came suddenly, and once again shock began to clutch at his soul.  The ants quickly transformed from flesh to steel, digging into his face and arms, and legs and eyes, not just tearing through his skin but through every part of his being.  Petrified and voiceless, he could no longer move.  His eyes failed him, sending the world into darkness.

©Neil Schultz, August 15, 2011

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