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Chapter 14

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The room smelled like plastic. New and clean like a fresh pack of batteries just removed from their packet. Or like a new comm link unit. Dry. Flat. Neutral.

Where am I? What happened?

Isla pushed herself up slowly. Every muscle ached as she opened her eyes.

White. White padded walls. And the white padded bench she was lying on.

White padded walls on every side. She was inside a cube of infinite whiteness..

And it was one of the scariest things she had ever seen. Or been. This is so not good.

‘Hello,’ she called out. ‘Hellooooo’.

Stretching slowly, she padded around the room taking stock of her situation. She was still dressed in the clothes she had on when she and Ger went to Jericho’s.

Ger! The transport? What happened? Dad!

Isla raced to a door, barely visible in the wall, pounding on it with her fists.

‘Ger! Ger! Can you hear me?! Hello, anyone?!

An ear-splitting siren crashed through her space, dropping her to her knees as she covered her ears in terror.

<Please refrain from damaging your cube. You will be billed for any damage done to the unit or yourself with these actions. Please return to your bunk and await further instructions.>

The piercing noise switched off leaving Isla folded on the floor of her cell.

Cube? I’m in a cube. I’m in a frakking cube. So this is what they look like?

She dragged herself off the floor, crawling slowly over to her bunk. I am not going to cry. There’s no way I’m going to let them see me cry.

Isla glanced up at the ceiling, finding a micro-camera trained down on her. She lay back on her bench, folding her arms beneath her head. A sharp painful welt on the back of her neck caused her to wince in pain.

‘What the Frakk?’ Isla grimaced as she rubbed the painful wound.

There was no blood on her fingers when she looked at her hand.

Something happened. Something big.

Isla sighed, concentrating on piecing together the events leading up to this white room. Okay, Isla. Think.

As if sifting sand, her memories slid into focus. Slowly at first, then faster — racing over one another as the frantic moments in the control room played out.

’See you in the aether!’ said… Jericho?

Isla frowned, leaning forward on her bunk.

What does that even mean? What’s the — aether?

I remember Ger telling me about the code. Having to shut it down. And Jericho was strapped into her computer workstation— then —

’Nothing. I don’t remember anything.’

‘See you in the aether.’ What did she mean by that?

Isla’s stomach rumbled uneasily as she sat on the bench. It had been hours — days — since she had eaten or used the toilet. I dunno how long.

‘Hey,’ she called out. ‘I gotta use the toilet. Little help?’

<Hygienic facilities are available underneath your bunk. Please push back on the mattress to locate access.>

Isla spun, trying to locate the source of the disembodied security voice.

‘Where are you? Who’s talking?’

< I am Cube 739495. Your automated environment host. I monitor you 24 hours a day while incarcerated.>

Isla groaned, her stomach flipping in agony.

Incarcerated? Jailed?

Pushing back the bench cushion, a sleek toilet area revealed itself. She fumbled with her jeans as she dropped onto the seat, covering herself with her leather jacket.

‘A little privacy, please?’ Isla called out to the cube’s automated environment.

Nothing. Figures.

Unable to restrain herself, Isla’s face burned as she voided into the toilet. Her stomach cramped in agony as she tried not to cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.

<Please note that the effects of the neurotoxin are temporary. You shall be in full operational capacity in less than one lunar cycle.>

Isla groaned as she leaned down over her lap and hid her face from the camera. Fat, wet tears dripped down her face as she cramped on the toilet.

Neurotoxin? What is going on?

Once again, Ger found himself tied to a chair.

This time, there was no hope of getting out. Steel shackles on his wrists and ankles wrapped around the pedestal chair bolted securely to the floor.The room was pitch black except for one blinking, red LED flashing on the security camera mounted above the door.

Even in this minuscule light, Ger’s eyes had adjusted to shapes and he could just about make out the dimensions of the room — cell — he was trapped in.What he saw wasn’t great.

Bolted steel walls surrounded him and an ominous drain sat flush in the middle of the floor. I’m going to pretend I don’t even know what that’s for.

Ger thought back to the skirmish he and Isla had survived. We’d been lucky.

 

Flashing back on the invading cop 'bots and the HT’s, Ger had just about punched in his codebreaker for Jericho’s upload when everything went dead. Complete silence. All power. All the computer gear. It just shut down with a final crack. He’d never seen anything like it.

 

“Hello! Is there anybody there?’ Ger called out into the dark. He’d already tried this all morning and nothing had happened. Nobody answered. There were no signs of life anywhere. It was as if he’d been dropped off into the middle of deep space and stuck inside the world’s ugliest cooler. And it’s frakkin’ cold.

Ger’s breath steamed in the wintry metal room as he wiggled his toes and wrists keeping his circulation going. He’d run through the gamut of emotions already — fear, anger, apologizing and had now reached a level of acceptance.

Whatever was going to happen was going to happen on their terms — not his.

‘Isla! Isla! Can you hear me?’

Ger had been blown away that Isla tried to saved him. When she was shot down by a 'bot’s tranq dart, he’d just about lost his frakkin’ mind.

 

Racing to Isla, everything else forgotten, he’d grabbed at the pulse rifle looking to use it on someone, something. Tears pooled in his eyes as he spun towards Jericho — who now hung lifeless in her harness by her computer rig.

‘Jericho? You in there. Get out here. NOW!’

The woman was strapped into her complex computer rig complete with large steampunk visor that covered her whole head, held upright only by the complicated harness that she had rigged while operating the machine. Ger flashed back to Jericho’s final words as she code-jacked hard into the transport. ‘See you in the aether,’ the cybernaut had screamed at Ger and Isla. Whatever the heck that is?

Now, Jericho looked past help.

Very carefully, Ger stole towards her, the pulse rifle pointed at the prostrate criminal. Ger wasn’t taking any chances.

<Put down the weapon. This is your only warning.>

Ger spun, keeping his finger well away from the trigger, dropping the electronic rifle to the concrete floor. Both a military-styled HT and a human-looking cop 'bot stood in front of Ger, directly over Isla. The metal cop dropped down to one knee and gently took Isla’s pulse with his sensor fingers. Both the HT and cop 'bot glared at Ger the whole time.

<Suspect alive. Neurotoxins present at acceptable levels. Prep for transport.>

Ger breathed a sigh of relief. Everything had happened so fast. I didn’t even know if Isla was alive. She’s okay…

 

‘ISLA! GNGR! IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, MAKE A NOISE. DO SOMETHING!’ Ger called out in the dark metal room. Again, all he heard in response was nothing. The room was terminally silent. Except for the flashing red light.

 

The HT and 'bots had made swift work at Jericho’s party camp.

As Ger waited to be processed, he saw the geeks and freaks of the party being loaded into one bus while he was kept waiting to one side. The HT had escorted Ger swiftly out of Jericho’s control room as the cop 'bots swarmed the terminal. The last thing he saw as he was pushed into a metal transport van was Jericho’s body being wheeled out on a gurney wrapped in a clear plastic body bag. Jericho had left the building.

 

< Initiating>

 

Back in Ger’s cell, a tin, metallic voice sounded as the blinking red diode next to the door flashed green. The sound of heavy electronic locks disengaging boomed throughout the space. Someone’s coming in?

This is so lame. Isla still burned in humiliation over having to use the toilet in a broadcast space. Better get over it, I suppose. This is probably gonna be my life from now on. What am I gonna tell Mom? And Dad? Is he even okay? Did Jericho take down the transport? He’s gotta be okay. He’s gotta be…

Isla fumed, determined not to allow herself to be weak. Holding back her worry about her Dad. Failing miserably as she trembled alone in the cube. Looking about, she paced the white cubicle looking for seams, tears or anything that could help her find a way out. Anything so I don’t think about Dad. Or what’s going to happen. Or Ger…

The room itself was a nightmare of plain white walls all illuminated by an overhead ceiling of constant, soft colorless light. Isla smashed the padded walls.

‘I want to talk to someone. I know my rights as a citizen. I’m allowed a comm call. I want my lawyer,’ Isla screamed to the walls. She’d seen enough shows to know that all bad guys at least got a chance to some kind of representation and a chance to contact someone at least once. Anger burned hot through her  as Isla slapped the walls again in frustration. Go ahead, bill me. Whatever they had given me has worn off. I don’t feel like crap anymore. What I feel is anger. A lot of anger.

‘Where the hell am I?’ Isla screamed as she kicked against the padded cell door, her sneakers bouncing off the white cloth material, pushing all of her buttons. I AM NOT GOING TO COOPERATE!

She punched the door in a flurry of rabbit punches, sweat flying as she exhausted herself against the door. Falling back onto the floor of her cube, face wet with sweat, she tried to control her overheated panting. What am I going to do?

<Move away from the cube door. Return to your bench for incoming visitation.>

Isla scurried from the floor to her bench, eyes wild with fear and anticipation. Okay, this could go really well, or really badly. She ran her fingers through her jacket looking for anything she might be able to use as a weapon to defend herself if it came to this. Her fleet fingers flew over the zippered folds of leather searching for anything. She had nothing at all in her pockets.

Everything she had been carrying had been removed and all of her searching turned up empty. The door to the cube slid open as a security 'bot rolled into the room first. The metal robot was clearly armed with both a taser-like appendage and an ominous barrel sticking out from the front of it. Isla couldn’t helped but be reminded of the old Dr. Who villains, the Daleks, as she tried to put on her toughest, you-don’t-scare-me face to the machine.

<Keep your hands visible at all time> croaked the 'bot as Isla pulled her hands from her leather jacket. She glared at the door prepared for her visitor. Okay, I’m ready.

‘Isla, honey — are you okay —?’

Major David Anderson strode into the cubicle, rushing to her.

Dad? Dad! Isla grabbed her father, tears falling as he embraced her hard. She sobbed into his shoulder, chest heaving in relief. Dad’s here? He’s okay?

I’m sorry about this,’ he said, looking about the cube. ‘Everyone thought it was for the best. They wanted to let the tranq dart wear off and give me enough time to get here.’

Isla pulled back from her father, looking at his face.  He had that new beard that he’d grown in space. But it’s him, it’s really him.

I don’t understand what’s going on, Dad? How did I get here? Is everyone on the transport okay? I’m so sorry about this. I didn’t have a choice. Is everyone alright?’

Anderson smoothed back his daughter’s hair, smiling at her. He released Isla, padding over to the bench and sat.

‘Sit down, Isla. There’s a lot we have to talk about. There’s a lot I need to find out. And a lot you need to know.’

You know, if anyone had told me that this was gonna be how this day would turn out, I would have said, ‘No Way.’

Ger goggled at the man standing in front of him. Dressed in a military blue jumpsuit, sporting a red beard and a no-nonsense scowl across his face, it was all Ger could do not to look at the stun gun he held in his hand.

‘You make a move, you get stunned. You yell at me, you get stunned. You try to attack me, you get stunned. Twice.’

Ger couldn’t believe what he was looking at. Or who. Frak, this is Isla’s Dad. The guy from the transport! Ger nodded at the man as he moved into the dark room.

‘I just have one question,’ Ger asked. ‘How am I supposed to do any of that strapped into this chair?’

Major Anderson’s scowl grew a little lighter as he pocketed the stun weapon. ‘Okay, you’ve got a point.’

‘Kinda new to this aren’t you?’ Ger jibed as the door behind the Major slid closed.

‘Don’t push it, kid.’

Ger nodded, carefully watching the man as he circled Ger at the pedestal chair. ‘You wanna stay in front of me. It’s kinda creepy with you moving behind me like that.’

‘How do you know Isla Anderson?’

Ger shrugged. ‘ You’re her Dad, aren’t you? You were on that shuttle. Did everyone get off okay.’

‘What do you care? You and Jericho nearly brought the whole thing down.’

Ger sighed in frustration. ‘Sir, I had nothing to do with that cray-cray scene. GNGR, I mean, Isla was the one who invited me. I was just her plus one.’

‘We have security footage of you at the main terminal orchestrating the cyber-attack on military transport Moon Alpha 6. That’s serious cube time, Ger.’

So they know who I am? This is not good.

‘Look, you help me, and maybe I can help you,’ Anderson said as he moved closer to Ger, directly across from him. ‘Get you out of this interrogation cell and into a proper cube. Would you like that?’

Ger shook his head. ‘I had NOTHING to do with what happened there. I was trying to run a counter-cypher to crash the system when the whole thing went down. Check the feed you have and you can see me on it. They had me taped up, that crazy psycho was gonna shoot me. I’m a good guy here, Mr. Anderson. I was trying to help Isla — help you.’

Major Anderson blew out a breath as he decided whether he could trust this renegade or not.

‘Please, just let me know, is Isla okay?’

Anderson nodded as he crouched down to look directly at Ger. Fear and concern etched across Ger’s face made the decision easier for the Major.

‘Isla’s fine. I just left her. I’ve brought her up to speed on everything and she understands what she’s going to have to do.’

‘What does she have to do? Is there any way out of this for her? For me?’

Major Anderson nodded slowly and moved back towards the door away from Ger. ‘I’m going to trust you.’ He looked up towards the green diode over the door.

‘Release the prisoner from the restraints.’

The metal cuffs on both Ger’s wrists and ankles slid away letting him go free.

‘If you try anything, the same rules apply.’

Anderson held the stun unit in his hand again. Pointing directly at Ger.

‘Okay, I get it,’ Ger smile as he slowly pulled himself out of the chair.

‘Isla’s been tranqed for the last six hours and I hotfooted it over here on landing.’

‘Where’s here?’ asked Ger as he looked about the space.

‘Better that you not know for now. Do you want a chance to get out of here?

Ger gulped. Most definitely.

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