Amanda pounded her fist against the door, as she had for the past two hours. Damn it, if I have to be miserable so do you. “Let me out!” she yelled. Maybe someone outside the building can hear. Maybe. Her fist hit the solid metal once again.
“Shut the hell up in there,” called out a bored voice.
“Fuck you,” she shouted back, punctuating it with kick to the door.
The ache in her stomach grew too much for her to bear at the sudden action. She sat on the bed and hunched over, the old springs creaking and groaning beneath her. Useless. Should have brought some painkillers or better shoes or looser shirt or something. She grimaced and forced herself upright, looking around the bare room.
Anything here I can use? Anything sharp? She ducked down and checked under the bed. Other than dust bunnies, she saw only threadbare carpeting. As she lifted herself up off the floor, her stomach sent out a lance of pain, freezing her for a moment. Damn it. She worked her way up, careful to avoid putting any stress on her stomach. Not healed yet. I’d better not start throwing up.
She checked all around the room, even slowly dragging the bed so she could check on some high and empty shelves on the walls. Nothing. Was this a storage room or something? She returned to the bed and checked the posts. Maybe unscrew something, use the screw as a shiv or something? Her fingers fumbled with a screw in the bedpost. After a few minutes, her nails found a purchase and she managed to free the screw. She examined the little bit of metal in the palm of her hand. Too short. Not pointy. Probably worse than nothing. She let the screw fall to the floor as she lay back on the bed.
Note to self, never leave without a day’s supply of pills. And maybe I need a concealed carry permit. And maybe I should just make a computer to predict everything so something this stupid never happens again. Yeah, I’d like that. Why the hell can’t my parents take no for an answer? Seriously? Armed dudes kidnapping me in the night? In the middle of a date? Come on. They’d probably hate Rob, too.
Someone knocked on the door, breaking her train of thought. “You still alive?” asked a deep voice.
“Yeah,” she spat back. Like you give a shit beyond your damn paycheck.
They left her alone, letting her drift off to sleep, until a metallic sound brought her back into wakefulness.
She turned over to face the door as she heard it rattling. The door handle jiggled and twisted. Now what? It doesn’t take that long to unlock a door. It finally opened and she stared, mouth slightly agape, at Rob as he slipped in. Hell yes! Before she could say a word, he held a finger to his mouth as he shut the door behind him. He motioned her over, kneeling by the door with his ear to it. In his free hand he held a length of wire.
She joined him. What am I listening for? Rob didn’t meet her gaze, keeping an eye on his watch. He held up a hand and pointed to the door. Amanda heard heavy footsteps approaching. They stopped. The blood drained from Rob’s face. Shit, is that guy onto us? After a moment, the footsteps continued past them. Rob let out a sigh of relief as they faded out of earshot.
“Hi!” he whispered to Amanda with a grin.
She threw her arms around him. “You’re the best,” she exclaimed, as loud as she dared.
“So how are we getting out of here?” she whispered, releasing him.
Rob shrugged and replied, “I dunno. Figured the first step was just gettin’ outta the rooms.”
“Then let’s figure that out.” She sat, back against the wall, next to the door. “What have you seen?”
“Not much, came straight for you. Bangin’ on the door all that time kept drawin’ the guards back. An’ the moment you went quiet they checked on us. I’ve been listenin’ for their patrols. We got about a half hour before he comes around again.”
“Then we need to come up with a plan.”
Rob shook his head as he stood. “Longer we wait an’ talk, the more likely they are to figure out somethin’s wrong.”
“Just rushing out there is going to get us recaptured, or killed,” argued Amanda. Trust me, I want to leave just as badly as you do.
“We don’t got much time. An’ they might have a random patrol or somethin’ come by. We gotta move.”
“No, just think for a moment. They mentioned there are four Overlord robots watching all the exits. Robots don’t sleep. There’s the three guys that brought us in, plus the half dozen guys who were already here, and we know for a fact that not all at least one of them is up and moving.”
“Yeah, we gotta be careful. But we gotta see what’s goin’ on. We barely know this building.”
She grimaced. “Fine. Help me up, please,” she said, holding up a hand. Rob took it and helped haul her to her feet. I need to talk to Miya and see if I can’t get my stomach patched up any better. There’s got to be something out there.
Together, she and Rob crept out of her cell and into the dim corridor beyond. Rob led them to the right, away from the muffled talking in the main room they’d come in through earlier. Amanda found herself constantly checking over her shoulder for anyone coming up behind them. Rob reached down and patted her leg as he came to a stop.
He pointed to a metal ladder tucked away in the corner, leading up to a hatch in the ceiling. Roof access. She nodded. Rob climbed up the ladder as Amanda watched his back. No one appeared, she couldn’t even spot moving shadows. She heard him climb back down.
“Who welds a door shut?” asked Rob as he rejoined her.
“Mercenaries who want to make it hard for flying metahumans to get in. They’ve really fortified this place,” explained Amanda.
“Wouldn’t stop ‘liv’ or Cyrus.” Realization dawned on his face. “Oh. They’d have to beat the hell out of it, an’ make a lot of noise doin’ it. Early warnin’.”
“We’re not getting out that way,” said Amanda.
“Front door? Or is that too obvious?”
“Maybe. Or maybe not. This is an old store. You don’t want obvious murder bots and security in plain view of a storefront. It’s worth checking.”
Let’s see, we came in through the back. Then they turned left and took us to our cells. Now we’re at a corner. “This way,” whispered Amanda, turning right. As they passed by a closed up office at another corner, an intense, one sided conversation approached. She tensed up and stopped, hoping Rob would get the message and not bump into her. She looked up and into the reflection of the office’s window. She saw the leader pace back and forth, phone pressed to his ear.
“I wanna ask him some questions,” said Rob, his voice dangerously low as they ducked.
Amanda smacked his upper arm. “Not now. Let’s get out of here.”
Around the corner, the leader spat, “No, you listen to me. We have no more vehicles.”
“But,” began Rob as he began to get out of their hiding spot.
She grabbed him and pulled him down, dragging him a few feet away, back down the hallway. “No. Look at me,” she hissed, grabbing his chin. “We’re going to get out of here. Then we’ll do everything to find you brother, I promise. But not here, while we’re unarmed and outnumbered.”
Rob glared at the leader through the wall. “Fine.”
Amanda craned her neck to get a good look at the reflection of the leader’s unmoving back. “OK, he’s not looking. Go,” she whispered.
Rob slipped across the hallway; the leader gave no indication he’d heard anything. Amanda followed after, still stooped low. She grimaced as her stomach ached in protest.
“You OK?” Rob asked once she’d caught up.
“Yeah,” she grumbled in response.
Together they headed for the front of the safe house. Come on, I need to channel my inner ninja. All those times sneaking out of the house are paying off. Rob stopped them again.
“No good. Bots,” muttered Rob.
Amanda poked her head around the corner. A pair of robots stood beside the opposite wall, unwavering gazes fixed on the front door. A man snored nearby. Amanda and Rob pulled back. Fuck this.
“Maybe we could cut the power,” said Amanda.
“We’d be blind, same as them.
“Yeah. And the robots would probably be able to see anyways.”
“Knock a guy out, steal his gun, make a run for it?” suggested Rob.
“We won’t be able to do that quickly or quietly. And they’d chase us and probably catch us.” Those robots are probably faster than us. Wait, the robots. What’s controlling them?
Rob frowned. “We need to take out those bots, then.”
“Remember what?” asked Rob.
You know, the thing. “The guy mentioned that the robots came in with something. I think he described it as some big box.”
“Think it’s controllin’ ‘em?” asked Rob, his voice doubtful.
“Maybe, maybe not. It’s important to the robots, these guys have no idea what it is, and we don’t have much else to lose.”
“OK, where is it?”
“That’s a good question.”
“Not much left to this place. Got the main store area where the mercs are. I didn’t see a big metal box.”
Amanda shook her head. “I didn’t spot any doors in there. There’s not much else to this place. There’s just the bathrooms, our cells, and that office.”
They locked eyes for a moment. “The office,” they whispered simultaneously.
That’s the only place we haven’t seen. Unless they stored it in one of the bathrooms for some ungodly reason. A moment later, they found themselves hesitating at the hallway where the leader still held his angry conversation on the phone. Amanda sat back and let her stomach recover as Rob kept an eye out. Damn that leader guy is angry.
“I don’t give a damn about those bots,” growled the leader into his phone. “They’re the last priority, do you hear me?” With that, he hung up and took a deep breath. He straightened the collar of his suit and walked back into the main room, his footsteps slow and even.
The hallway he’d stood in was a straight shot between the main room and the corridor Amanda and Rob hid in. She could see a man sleeping on another bare bones bed, his back turned to Amanda and Rob. Coast should be clear. Just as Amanda took a step towards the office door, Rob pulled her back. The driver walked by in the main room, towards where the leader had gone. She felt her teeth unclench as he disappeared. Try number two. She reached the office door and twisted the unyielding nob.
“Locked,” she whispered.
“I can get it opened,” said Rob, producing his bit of wire from his pocket. They traded places, Amanda keeping an eye on the main room behind them while Rob rattled the lock, jimmying it open. She cringed as Rob cursed under his breath with a particularly loud click. Not so loud.
A moment later, he tapped her on the shoulder. “We’re in.”
They slipped into the office, Amanda shutting the door quietly behind them. A large office desk had been shoved to the side to make way for a large metal box. Some papers and a lamp were scattered over it. Amanda could think of no other way to describe it. It was entirely a seamless piece of pale white metal in the shape of a box. No scratches, no features of any kind on its surface.
“The hell is that?” asked Rob.
“I have no idea,” muttered Amanda.
“It’s just a box?”
“It can’t be. Look for something.”
She examined the top of the box, while Rob knelt down and covered the sides. After a moment, he said, “Here, I’ve got something.”
She joined him. He pointed to the face of the box pointed away from the door. Four small, circular divots were cut into the metal. “And there’s that,” he said, pointing to the edge between two of the divots.
“You don’t see it?” he asked.
“It’s a seam in the metal. A really fine one, but it’s there. It’s almost as if it’s been screwed in, but I don’t see how.” He leaned in closer to one of the divots. “Yeah, there’s circular scuffing on the metal here.”
Screw. There has to be a way to open this. Electronic key? If that’s it, we’re boned. Or magnets? Why not? “Your watch, what’s it made of?” asked Amanda.
“Just steel, I only work with metal. There’s a copper part, I think, that’s it.”
“Give,” said Amanda, holding out her hand.
Once he unstrapped it from his wrist, he passed it to her. She ran it over the surface of the cube he’d pointed to. Then, near the edge where he’d indicated the seam, the watch twitched in her hands by some unseen force she would have bet her life was magnetism. She ran it over a few more times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.
“There’s a magnet in there. It’s a magnetic screw. Hang on, let me rephrase. It might be a magnetic screw.”
Rob stared at her for a moment. “What?”
“Rather than using mechanical force to rotate the screw, it uses magnetic force. This one is just on the inside of the box. I have no idea how they did this, but this is Overlord stuff, so I’ll believe anything. And this is just confirming my suspicion that there’s something important in here.”
Rob nodded for a moment before his eyes widened in alarm. “Watch,” he hissed, holding his hand out. The moment she handed it to him, he checked it and whispered, “Guard time.”
They hunkered down below the window. Rob craned his head up every now and then, checking for when the guard would make his scheduled round. A silhouette passed in front of the closed blinds of the office window. Rob gave her a thumbs up a minute later.
“OK, we need a magnet to open this. Electricity…” she said, trailing off.
“Electricity,” repeated Rob.
“Electromagnet. I just need a length of metal and electricity.”
She spotted an outlet. This building has power; the lights are on out there. How do I get it to do what I want to do? Her gaze raked over the Spartan office, before it rested on the lamp. Sure. That could work.
They unplugged and opened up the lamp. Amanda traced the power cord to their weakest point, then tore the wires free. “OK, now I need as much exposed wire as I can get to wrap around your watch.” Her fingernails scratched impotently against the plastic.
“Here,” said Rob, pulling his own bit of wire out of his pocket again. He took the jagged end of it and began sawing away the plastic.
“Where the hell did you get that?” she asked. “I couldn’t find anything in my cell.”
“From the spring mattress,” he grunted, concentrating on freeing the wire.
“I know how metals work,” he replied with a grin. “This enough.”
“Should be.” She wrapped the exposed wiring of the power cable around Rob’s watch, held it by where the insulation began, and plugged it in. This is too easy. “OK, you’re an engineer working for Overlord,” whispered Amanda. “You’re making this box as impenetrable as possible. What else do you do to make this thing a pain in the ass to open?”
“Fuck with convention. Make it loosen when you go right, tighten with left. Cuz it’s under the metal, you get no visible sign you’re fuckin’ up,” said Rob with a grin.
Amanda smiled. “I think you’re right.”
She held her ad-hoc electromagnet to the divot and twisted to the right as much as the power cord would allow. When she finished with the second one, Rob’s grin grew a little wider. “I saw that gap widen a bit, we’re doin’ it!” Soon enough, the panel came free and they peered inside.
A flurry of lights greeted them. Amanda’s eyes flickered over the circuit boards. “Is that a brain?” asked Rob. A round, grey mass, with a huge cluster of wires threaded through it, floated in a tank of pale, sickly green fluid in the very center.
Amanda fought to keep her dinner in her stomach. “I think it is,” she replied.
“How do we shut this down?”
“I’m looking. It’s like a really fucked up supercomputer. I’m seeing a lot of redundant systems. Overlord really didn’t want this going down.” Oh Jesus that’s a brain. That’s a human brain. Oh God I hope that was lab grown. What poor… no, lab grown, it’s lab grown. How do I stop this? her hands hovered over a dozen different options available.
The door to the office opened in front of them.