This is chapter 11 of my novel, Foreign. If you want to catch up on previous chapters, you can click here. I post a new chapter each Friday at noon, so subscribe to my blog and you’ll never miss out!
Fortunately, Mark and Justin were alone in this new room, which by the look of it, was not all that common an occurrence. A rough estimate totaled about fifteen chairs in the room. Along one whole wall was a long row of closets that looked like they could have contained another suit like their own. The wall that all the chairs were facing appeared to be one giant, inactive screen. Near one end of it was a podium that faced toward the chairs.
“This must be where they all talk about who they’re gonna murder next, or who get to clean up alien poop,” Justin observed.
“Hey, check out the lockers over there!” Mark approached one and pointed to a word on the center of it. Each locker had a word. “I think these are the names of all the people who work here and this is their stuff.”
He tried opening the locker and it wasn’t locked. Inside there some personal objects like little trinkets and a screen card that was affixed to the back wall, playing a loop of a young family. There was no suit in the locker, but it was easily big enough to fit one. Maybe this guy was out working somewhere?
He tried the next locker over, and it, too opened. There was a suit inside this locker. “So if each worker has a locker and if each locker holds a suit like ours, do you think that every suit is matched to an individual person?” Mark postulated.
Justin continued the thought, “That would mean that they’d be able to tell who’s suits we’re wearing. And probably that we aren’t those same guys.”
“Corti, do our suits have location tracking services? And is there any way you can talk so Justin can hear too?” Mark asked.”
“Of course. I will push my coding over to Corti. Justin will hear everything I say unless he chooses to block it out. The Tielsuit’s coordinates are wirelessly streamed back to the central database in real time. Coordinates are stored for one year.” Corti explained.
“Can I stop my suit from broadcasting its coordinates?” he continued.
“Certainly. Would you like me to cease location broadcasting?
“Yeah. And if Justin can hear my conversation with you, can other people hear it too?”
“Certainly. A simple search of the identification number of this Tielsuit will yield a spreadsheet of all usage statistics and data.”
“So anybody can see or hear the conversation we are having right now?” Mark anxiously deduced.
“Yes, if they were to search for it,” Corti responded.
Curious, Mark asked, “Can this searchable information be blocked, and is there any other way we can be identified in these suits?”
Corti elaborated, “Of course. Simply request to quit submission of usage statistics and statistics from that point on will not be searchable until the submission is resumed. There are multiple methods of identification. Every Tielsuit has an identification number. This number is linked to the operator. Anybody who sees this Tielsuit will link it to its registered operator. At any given time this identification number can be referenced, and the name of the registered operator will appear. Also, other Tielsuit operators can use a function on their visor to superimpose identification numbers or registered user names by people in Tielsuits in their field of view.”
“So Corti, if somebody saw me in this suit what would they see?” Mark wondered.
Corti answered, “ They could see that the registered user is named Mark, has a fractured left ankle at a current osteography level of 73%, has been operating the Tielsuit for 7 minutes, and has a heart rate of 143 bpm. That is the preliminary information. They could see more upon request.”
“Osteography?” Mark repeated.
Corti explained, “Bone reconstruction. The current level in your ankle is now 74%.”
“Wait! So you are actually healing my bone?” Mark was incredulous.
“Of course. That’s what you asked me to do. At this rate, your ankle will be at full capacity in four minutes.” Corti answered.
Mark was dumbfounded while Justin realized something else.
“Wow,” Justin exclaimed. “So right now everything we say, whoever we go, and whatever the condition of our health is, anybody else can see it and see our name? We have to stop this! Can we block all data transmission to users other than us?”
Corti answered, “Yes. I will do that for both of you. As of now, you two are the only ones who have access to current usage statistics until you request otherwise, but take note that when others search for data on these suit numbers they will receive a message that statistical submission has been suspended.”
Justin said to Mark, “Then they already must know we are here and that we have these suits. It’s only a matter of time before somebody comes down here.”
Mark wasn’t quite as discouraged. “Corti, can you show us where the closest active Tielsuits, as you call them, are?”
Corti complied. “Certainly. There are three Tielsuits, registered to Zona, Nita, and Zuel, approaching the elevator on the second floor. They are 56 feet away.”
Mark pressed further. “ Can you notify us when they are right outside the door to this room? And do these suits have any vulnerable points or design flaws?”
“The manual release lever has been widely considered to be a design flaw, although its purpose is invaluable. Though highly unlikely, in the event of a software failure, designers have included a way to remove the Tielsuit manually so the operator will not be trapped. However, this feature is believed to be a detriment to the defensive capabilities of the Tielsuit because an enemy can capitalize upon it. The release lever is situated at the base of the helmet. As the lever is pulled out, the helmet will eject, allowing the user to breathe. With the helmet off the Tielsuit, the back splits open and the user can get out of the suit from that point.”
Justin saw what Mark was getting at in this line of questioning. “We might be able to pull this off, even with your gimp leg. If we wait here next to the door when these guys come in, we can at least take out two of them, if not all three. They won’t know where we are any more. They won’t even be sure that we’re still in this room. We’ll wait long enough for them to come fully into the room and go for the manual release lever on the back of their suits. They’ll be so disoriented with their suits opening up that we can either run past them or totally own them.”
“Well, I hadn’t totally thought that far ahead, but that works. I was just seeing if there was any chance to stand up against these guys even though we’ll be outnumbered. But what if they try to go for our manual release levers?” Mark reflected.
In reply, Justin said, “We’ll just have to hope they don’t! Let’s get in position, to the side of this door. They oughta be here any second.”
Mark was amazed at how good his ankle felt as they ran past all the chairs in the middle of the room and scrambled toward to the door on the opposite side. That osteography really was totally healing his bone! Near the door they dropped to a crouch, flanking it on each side, and not a moment too soon.
The door slid open.
They didn’t hear or see anything at first. Then they saw an outstretched Tielsuit hand, clutching some type of gun.
Justin didn’t mention anything about guns in his plan!
Panning back and forth, the arm was followed by a full body. As the armed guard fully entered the room, two more weapon-wielding arms came through the door. So far, none of the guards had thought to extend their scan completely to either side of the room.
They must be checking among all those chairs. Whoa! There’s the release lever!
Since the first guard was completely inside the room, his back was visible, as was the manual release lever. Mark glanced at Justin. He shook his head “No.” After another second that felt like eons, the second and third guards were completely in the room as well. The triad continued to walk toward the middle of the room. Justin and Mark made eye contact.
This is it.
In unison, they both jumped for the release levers on the two rear guards. Both of their hands connected. Justin’s hand pulled the lever so hard that it jerked the guard back as his helmet flew off. Panicked, the guard pulled the trigger on his firearm as his body convulsed backwards. The firearm didn’t make any noise. It had no kick. Nothing blasted out from it. But it definitely fired.
The silent killer had instantly blown a whole the size of a dinner plate in the front guard’s abdomen. It was a perfect circle in the middle of the body, no gore at all. The guard doubled over, gurgling cries of pain.
Mark’s adversary fared a bit better than Justin’s, but the odds weren’t in his favor. Similar to Justin, Mark successfully yanked the release lever on his Tielsuit. He, too, fell back, but he turned into the pulling force. Using the momentum gained by Mark’s pull, the guard swept his leg around with full force, bringing Mark’s legs up in the air. However, Mark never let go of the release lever. As Mark fell to the ground, he brought the guard with him, pulling his upper body down fast. They both hit the ground hard because of the weight of their Tielsuits. Luckily, Mark realized that his suit took most of the impact.
The guard didn’t have the same luck. He hit the ground just as hard as Mark, but without his helmet, his head bore the brunt of the impact. He lay next to Mark, with a blank expression. He was dead.
I just killed this guy.
Justin didn’t have time to contemplate the consequences of his actions. He was busy interrogating the final guard. Justin was easily able to subdue him and bring him to the ground after his helmet at had come off. The guard had instantly dropped his weapon when he saw he had just killed his comrade. He turned around to confront whoever had attacked him. The moment he saw Justin, a hard, black fist crushed his face. It dropped him instantly.
“Who are you people?” Justin demanded.
The guard was barely able to respond with more than a murmur, “Eee.”
“What the hell does that mean? Justin pressed.
“See? Answer me you stupid shit.” Justin grabbed his head by the hair and got ready to throw another punch.
“Eh…Ehhh. Ef.” His body went limp.
Justin dropped the body. “What a waste. Come on Mark. Let’s grab some of these weapons and get out of here before anybody else comes.”
I’m a killer, now too. No different than them. Still on the ground, Mark surveyed the carnage in the room – two men with heads that were destroyed and one with a gaping hole in his stomach.
He slowly rose to his feet and walked to the remains of the front guard. The guard lay on the ground, face down, hands poking through the empty hole in his stomach. All his guts were gone. There was a fine, grey dust all around the wound and on the ground, but other than that, nothing at all.
Justin walked up next to Mark to examine the body. “Holy crap! That gun was powerful! Let’s grab it. And see if you can find the one your guy had, too.”
“Just a minute.” Mark was feeling sick.
What could possibly just blow a hole in a guy like that? And where did his insides go? There was no mess at all?
“Fine, wus. Just sit there a minute, and I’ll get your gun too. But we gotta get out of here before more of these goons come. Corti, are any more Tielsuits coming our way?”
“Not at the moment,” she replied.
Justin picked up the second firearm. “Great. Ok, Mark, here’s your gun. I’ve got mine. Let’s go. How’s your leg doing?”
Mark asked Corti about his ankle. “It’s at 98% and it feels just about fine. These suits rule!” Mark affirmed.
They left the devastation behind as they went out the door to the room with the elevator. It turned out to be a junction of two red corridors like the one Mark had been led through so many times.
“Dude, I don’t see any elevators here.” Mark observed.
“I swear. It was right here,” he shot back. “Corti, how do I get this elevator to work?”
“I will call it for you. Make sure not to move. It should be here in 7 seconds.”
Mark looked up and down. He didn’t see anything anywhere that remotely resembled an elevator.
Before long he saw a bright flash of light the shrunk into a speck. It sat in midair, right between Justin and Mark.
“Not this thing agaaai-“ and everything went white as they were pulled into the speck.
The next thing they knew, they were standing in a crimson junction, just like the one they had been in.
Mark was relieved, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as the last time I went through one of those things. Corti, what was that thing? I thought we were taking an elevator?”
“That was a Faster Than Light Unit. They can be used to transport people anywhere, but that one is primarily used within this facility, to go from different floors.”
“Wait, so this thing can take us anywhere? Like back to our apartment?” Mark asked, hopeful?
“No,” Corti explained, “for two reasons. One, I don’t have the coordinates for ‘your apartment’ and this particular FTLU has very limited power. It can only transport people very short distances.”
“Hey Mark, we better stop talking and start moving. We’ve got four more guards coming down that corridor. Follow me. I think the exit I saw on the map was this way.” Justin grabbed Mark’s arm and started running.
They ran about ten feet down the corridor until they saw a whole mob of guards approaching way down at the other end of the room.
Justin drew his firearm and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again. Still nothing. A little red light flashed on the top of the barrel.
“Try your gun” Justin suggested.
The same red light flashed on his Mark’s gun too.
“Damn. We’ll have to find another way out.” Justin turned around and Mark followed suit. They were back at the junction, cut off from the only way out.
“You got any ideas?” Justin asked?
“Corti, can this FTLU take us anywhere outside this facility?”
“Yes. There are 4 locations that would fit your criteria.” She said,
“Then take us to one now!”
“I don’t care. Any one. The farthest one from here.”
The guards started to sprint toward them as they realized what was about to happen.
“Certainly. It will take approximately 3.8 seconds while I power up the unit.”
“That might not be fast enough.” Mark said.
“It will have to be!” Justin countered.
They both crouched low to the ground, hoping that would make them harder to hit in case the guards started to fire. But for some reason none of them had their weapons drawn. As the guards were closing in, a bright flash washed them all out. The flash shrunk to a dot in the center of the room, and everything seemed to freeze as Justin and Mark were sucked into the tiny, bright dot.
For chapter 12, click here.