Friday, November 21, 2014

Chapter 44

Graham backed away slowly, pulling Peggy Lee back along with him. 
“Where are you running to?” Ian said.  “You like to back yourself into corners, I guess, right?  But this time there’s no way out.”
When Ian was just a few yards away from Graham and Peggy Lee, Charley slipped out from his hiding place and began walking silently towards him.  As he approached, he said, in a calm, restrained tone, “Hey buddy, you looking for a fight?”
Ian spun around.  Before he could utter a word or defend himself, Charley landed a solid blow to his left eye.  Graham sprung from the corner and threw himself at the back of Ian’s knees, knocking the giant to the ground.  Ian fell onto his injured shoulder, twisting and howling with pain.  Then Charley jumped on top of Ian and struck him powerfully on the jaw.  Ian rolled onto his stomach to try to protect himself.  Charley grabbed his one good arm, wrenched it up behind his back, and pinned him to the ground.  Graham held his legs.
“Alright, I got him,” Charley said.
“You can handle him?”
“Then I’ll untie the soldiers, and we can secure him with those straps.”
“Hurry though.  This ox is even stronger than he looks.”
Graham ran over and pulled the gags out of the soldiers’ mouths and untied them.  “You guys are techies, right?  Go figure out how to get those doors open.  Break into the emergency protocol and see what you can do,” Graham ordered.
Peggy Lee sat down on the floor, put her head in her hands, and began to sob.  Graham and Charley bound Ian’s good arm to his feet.  He lay there silently, like a roped calf, spitting blood onto the floor. 
“Peggy Lee, are we in immediate danger from those bombs?” Graham asked.
She shook her head.  Then she said, “We have about half an hour before the back-up detonators are activated.  Then, you will have fifteen more minutes before they go off.”
Charley stepped over to Peggy Lee.  “I need to restrain you as well.  You are under military arrest.”
“Don’t bother her,” Graham replied.  “She’s not going to try anything now.  When we get those doors open we’ll take them both to the holding cells, but there’s no need to bind her hands.”
“If you say so, boss.”
“I say so.”
Within five minutes, the two techie soldiers had managed to get the doors open.  All of the soldiers on the Platform burst into the room ready for a fight. 
“Stand down,” Graham ordered.  “Now, do any of you have explosives experience?  We need to deactivate these bombs.” 
One of the escort soldiers from the boat stepped forward.  “I used to tinker a lot with electronics when I was a kid.  I could probably help.”
“What’s your name again?” Graham asked.
“Private Eckstrom, sir.”
“Anyone else?”
The room was silent.  Then, Peggy Lee stood up and said, “I want to help too.  I know the bombs.  They’re very sophisticated.  You cannot move them because any motion will cause premature detonation.  If you cut the wrong wire or pull any circuit boards, they’ll blow.  You need my help if you’re going to have any chance of disarming those bombs.”
Graham turned and looked hard at her.  “Why would I trust you?”
“Because I helped you stop Ian.”
“Okay, but why did you do that?  Your mission was clearly to destroy the facilities.”
“I changed my mind, okay?  I helped you, not him.  That should be enough.  Let’s just deactivate the bombs, okay?”
“As I see it, I don’t really have much choice.  Okay everyone clear the room, except for Peggy Lee and Private Eckstrom.  Charley, take a couple of soldiers and escort Ian to holding cell A.  The rest of you, get down to the dining hall, where I will debrief you when we’re finished here.”
“You’re staying too?” Charley asked.
Graham nodded as he grabbed a toolbox from one of the soldiers.  “Now go!”
The room emptied quickly.  Graham, Peggy Lee, and Private Eckstrom walked over to the bomb attached to the central console.  Peggy Lee pointed to a green wire and a blue wire, “Cut those two simultaneously.”
“Are you sure?” Graham asked.
“Yes, I studied these bombs for months getting ready for today.”
“What do you think, soldier?” Graham asked.
“Looks plausible to me.  The better question is how sure are you that you can trust this terrorist?  Because if she’s wrong . . . .”
Graham turned and took Peggy Lee by the shoulders.  “Look at me, damn it,” he said.
Her beautiful, blue-gray eyes came immediately into focus on his.  Tears streaked her face and her bottom lip quivered, but her eyes were steady and clear.  He wondered what she saw when she looked at him.  Her eyes seemed to be pleading with him for forgiveness, but he could not be sure.  He wasn’t even sure if she wanted to live or die.  He knew now that she was lost in this deteriorating world – that her convictions had dissolved into nothing.  She had managed to maintain a polished presentation to the outside world, but what lay inside was dark and wrought with confusion.  Something in her sorrowful gaze, however, assured him that she did not want to hurt him.  She nodded just once, and Graham made the call. 
Without taking his eyes off of hers, he ordered the soldier to cut the wires.  If he was wrong and the room exploded, at least the last thing that he would see would be beautiful – strange, frightening, frail, and complicated, but also extremely beautiful.
“Alright, sir, I hope you know what you’re doing,” Private Eckstrom said.
They all took a deep breath.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chapter 43

            Just then, Peggy Lee stirred behind Graham.  He glanced back and was relieved to see her getting to her feet.
“Oh no you don’t, you little traitor,” Ian roared.  “Stay right where you are!”
            “I will not,” Peggy Lee fired back as she stepped forward.  “You have controlled me enough.  This is all wrong.  We shouldn’t be doing this.  It’s just plain murder.  They’re wrong, too, I know, but blowing this place up is not going to make a bit of difference in the end.  There’s nothing that can be done to make things right.”
            “It’s the principle of thing, Peggy Lee,” Ian said, “you know that.”
            “What principles exist anymore?  Everything’s dying.”  She now stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Graham. 
            “On three, we rush him with all that we’ve got, okay?” Graham said quietly.
            “Okay, I’m ready.”
            “One . . . two . . . .”  He picked up the chair and positioned it in front of his body with the base facing Ian.  “Three!”  He sprinted toward Ian, who immediately jumped into a fighting stance.  Peggy Lee ran towards Ian as well, a few steps behind Graham. 
            Graham tried to jam the chair directly into Ian’s belly.  Ian however proved much quicker than Graham had expected.  The giant pivoted back and to the right like a matador and pushed the chair and Graham off to his side with his still-able arm.  Graham fell headlong onto the floor.  His face and shoulder struck the linoleum hard.  Blood immediately began to pour from his nose.  The chair had flown out of Graham’s grasp, across the room, and caromed off of the wall. 
            Peggy Lee jumped onto Ian and landed one clean blow with the palm of her hand to the back of his head.  Ian, however, easily pulled her off and threw her to ground next to Graham. 
“Are you alright?” Graham asked.
            “Yeah,” she struggled to say.  “He just knocked the wind out of me.”
            Ian was now bouncing side to side like a boxer.  “Do you want some more of me?” he taunted.  “Because there’s plenty more where that came from.  Or would you rather just tie yourselves up right now and avoid any more of these inane confrontations.  I’ve got more important business to attend to.”
            “You have not beaten us yet,” Graham said, wiping the blood from his nose with the sleeve of his shirt.  “My job is to defend these facilities, and defend them I will.”
            He got to his feet, rolled his shoulders and his neck and put his fists up.  “I’m not done fighting you.”
            “Peggy Lee,” Ian called.  “It’s not too late.  I’ll forgive you.  Let’s finish this guy off and get back to work.  We have to blow this place before the soldiers get through that door.  We still have time.  Come on, do it for Dad, if for nothing else.”
            “What?” Graham asked.  “Did he say ‘do it for Dad’?”
“There’s no time to explain,” Peggy Lee answered.  “Just leave it be.  And you, Ian, I will not help you.  You’ve fucked up my life for far too long.”
            “Alright, that really was your last chance.”  Ian then made a fist with his one good hand and started walking toward the two of them.
Just then, Graham saw something behind Ian.  A familiar face was peering out from behind the server racks.  It was Charley – he had finally squeezed through the shaft.  The odds had now shifted; Graham tried to conceal his smile. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chapter 42

Peggy Lee jumped as though being awakened from a dream.  She quickly stepped over, put her hands next to Graham’s hands on the server rack and starting pushing. 
“All we have to do is keep his arm caught in there until the soldiers--- ”
But Graham was interrupted by Ian’s yelling:  “You bitch, I will kill you too if I have to!”  Then the rack surged forward, and Ian managed to free his arm.  In so doing, though, he lost his balance and fell back on his heels.  Graham and Peggy Lee then drove the rack hard and fast back into its spot.  Ian tripped backwards into the service corridor wall, trying to get away from the rapidly advancing rack. 
“Pin him in there!” Graham yelled.  Peggy Lee sobbed as she pushed against the rack.  Just moments ago, Graham had wanted to hurt her for what she had done to him.  But now, he felt a heart-breaking allegiance to her.  She was trying to save him.  She was fighting on his side.  He wanted to grab her and take her away, to change everything and disappear with her forever.  But he realized in that instant that he would never have her.   
The rack picked up speed as the two of them stumbled forward.  And then it crashed against the wall with a bang, but there was no thud of Ian getting slammed in between the rack and the wall.  He had jumped to the side quickly enough to avoid their advance.  Graham’s plan had worked to a certain extent, but now Ian had sprung his trap and was lumbering through the darkness of the corridor, bloodthirsty and looking for revenge.  He would appear in moments, and then Graham would have to fight him face-to-face.  He hoped that he had done enough damage to Ian’s arm to give him the upper hand.  But he knew that victory over Ian was still a long shot. 
Peggy Lee returned to the corner where she had stood before.  She slumped to the floor and pulled her knees up tight against her chest.
Graham glanced around the room, looking for anything that he could use as a weapon against Ian.  His broken knife would be of little use.  An heavy office chair lay on its side near his feet.  He grabbed it and pulled it upright, thinking that maybe he could heave it at Ian and get lucky.  Or perhaps he could use it as a battering ram.  There was not enough time to untie the two soldiers at the far end of the room, who were struggling to free themselves.  Graham knew that they would never get free in time. 
Just then, Ian emerged from behind the server racks.  Rivulets of blood flowed down his right arm, which hung loose at the side of his body.  His fingers released droplets of blood onto the linoleum floor, forming perfect round dots next to his boot.  His pants were torn at the knee, revealing a large blue bruise that shot halfway down his shin and was punctuated by a deep gash.  Blood had stained the cuff of his pants dark red. 
When their eyes met, Graham recognized Ian’s glare; it was the same hateful look he had been giving Graham all along – only vastly intensified now.  Graham could have sworn that Ian smiled at him – just a hint of a smile, snide, cold, and hard – but then maybe it was a grimace from the pain.  Ian ran his fingers through his hair and spat into the palm of his still fully functioning left hand.   
Graham began to shake.  One of his knees buckled underneath him.  He almost fell, but then he grabbed the back of the chair for support.  “I don’t understand why you are doing this,” he started.
“No, I don’t expect that you would,” Ian replied.  “You and your kind just don’t see what’s happening – what’s already happened.  You don’t see the effect you’re having on the global environment – on the re-balancing of the atmosphere.  You think you have all the answers, but you are in fact the problem.  We, or rather I should say, I am here to save this fucking planet.”  Ian shot Peggy Lee a look over Graham’s right shoulder.  She continued to cower in the corner.
“You, Graham,” Ian continued, “help to perpetuate the existence of vast populations of useless, degenerate, and insatiable humans.  We need to make those people disappear before they can do any more damage to the planet.  Peggy Lee used to understand, but now look at her – indecisive and cowardly – she’s put the whole mission in jeopardy.”   
            “Don’t involve her in this,” Graham said.  “This is just between you and me.”
            Ian was definitely smiling now.  “Alright then, we can talk about Ms. Peggy Lee later.  There are lots of things about her that you may not know, Colonel.  But we’ll save that discussion for another day.”
            Graham nodded.
“That was clever work there with the server racks,” Ian continued as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hairy forearm.  “I underestimated you.”
Just then, they heard loud banging from outside the main doors.
“Don’t worry about that racket out there,” Ian said.  “You and I both know that the outcome in here will have nothing to do with them.  As you said yourself, it’s just you and me now, and I am just getting warmed up.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

Chapter 41

As he swung the metal cover, Graham stumbled on some unknown mass at his feet.  The cover flew out of his hands and caromed loudly against the front of the server rack.  He fell forward, catching a glimpse of Peggy Lee standing in the corner of the room.  She looked distraught.  He heard her yell “watch out” (but he was not sure who she was addressing), just as he felt himself flying through the air toward a nearby wall.
Graham quickly realized what had happened.  Ian had heard him bump into the server rack, crouched next to the corner, and then, with his massive strength, had thrown Graham.  And now, Ian was advancing on him, fury burning in his eyes.  The end is near, Graham thought to himself, the end is upon me. 
“You just cannot get enough, eh?” Ian spat as he approached.
“Leave him be,” Peggy Lee screamed.
Graham looked side to side.  There was nowhere to escape.  He looked at the air shaft to his left, hoping to see Charley popping out to save the day.  No luck.  He could try to slip past Ian, but that seemed almost impossible.  Other than that, he could retreat into the maintenance corridor behind the server racks, but then he would be truly cornered.  Maybe, just maybe, he thought, he could fend off Ian with his feet until help arrived.  Then, at the last second, he remembered something important about the last server rack in the row.  Unlike the others, which were firmly affixed to the floor, it was on wheels, for maintenance purposes.  He had a plan – perhaps not a great plan, but it was better than nothing. 
Just as Ian was about to grab him, Graham dove from his spot against the wall and disappeared back into the maintenance corridor behind the servers.  He ran into the darkness of the corridor, past the air vent.  He turned and then started slowly backing up towards the end of the long and narrow corridor. 
“Come out of there, Graham,” Ian coaxed.  “It will be a lot easier on you than if I come in there.  Don’t you remember what happened a little while ago?  You know, back in the room?  Come on, let’s not make this any more painful for you than it needs to be.  You did your duty, you tried to save the facilities, but you could not quite pull it off.  Don’t worry, they won’t blame you.  Come on out.  I’ll just tie you up with your other little soldier friends and maybe, if you are lucky, you’ll make it out of this alive.”
“Back in the room, you and Peggy Lee caught me by surprise,” Graham said, as he continued to back away.  “She tricked me.  I admit it.  I was duped.  And then you beat me and kicked me even though I was bound and gagged.  Things are different now.  I am going to stop you.  So why don’t you and Peggy Lee just give up.”
Ian snickered.  “Graham, you’ve got to be kidding me.  I have you cornered like a mouse in the kitchen.  I will crush you with the heel of my boot unless you come out now and just give it up.”  Ian wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve and leaned up against the wall.  He knew the bully part well, Graham thought to himself.  That casualness in the midst of violence, that ugly confidence in the heat of battle – only true brutes who had been in dozens of fights, victorious and otherwise, had that swagger and that intimidating smile of a cold-blooded, psychopathic street fighter.
“This whole hero thing you have going is preposterous,” Ian continued.  “No one is going to get in through those doors.  You and I both know it.  We’ve had all of your security systems in our files for years now.  And you haven’t updated a single thing.  So it’s just you and me, and, honestly, you can’t believe that you can win against me.  We have already been down this road.”
“Shut up, Ian.  I hate guys like you, always have.  This is your last chance,” Graham threatened.  “Give it up now.”
“All right, you dip-shit,” Ian sneered.  “I’m coming in there, and I’m gonna drag you out unconscious.  I didn’t want to do it to you again, but you’ve asked for it.”
Ian spat on his hands and entered the narrow hallway between the servers and the wall.  Graham back-peddled quickly until he ran into the end of the corridor.
“Where you runnin’, boy,” Ian called out as he sped his approach.
Graham prayed that his plan would work.  He had to time it perfectly.  If he was wrong, or even off by a millisecond, he was dead.  Ian would crush him, and then they would blow up the Brain Room.  The brute was now half-way down the narrow corridor, walking quickly with his fists clenched at his sides.  Graham could see that Ian’s jaw muscles were clenched tight and that a heavy sweat had broken across his brow.  He was getting too close.  Graham could almost smell him.  It was time to make a move. 
Graham pushed hard on the server rack that stood next to him.  Back when he was a soldier they used that end server as a backup for the Battery Station computer.  They had installed wheels on the server so that it could be moved easily between the two stations.  He hoped that the wheels were still in place.
The weighty rack began to move.  Graham pushed harder, putting one foot against the wall behind him for leverage.  The server began to roll out of the line and into the room. 
“Hey, where do you think you are going?” Ian screamed, as he broke quickly into a run.  “There is no escaping me.”
Graham gave it all he had.  A small gap appeared between the back of server rack and the rest of the line as Graham shoved the heavy load farther out into the room.  Ian skidded to a stop behind Graham and turned to grab him.  Graham slid his skinny body through the gap.  Ian reached for him, but just missed, scraping Graham’s forearm with his fingernails. 
Graham grabbed the corner of the server rack and yanked it back as hard as he could.  The rack slid part of the way back into place, pinching Ian’s extended arm in between the fixed servers and the free one.  Graham heard a bone-crushing crack.  All he could see was Ian’s bicep caught in between the server racks and his arm flailing in pain.  Ian cried out, “You motherfucker!”
Graham pulled himself around to the front of the server and pushed it hard again.  He felt it lurch forward as it ripped farther into Ian’s arm and squeezed his shoulder in between Graham’s giant bludgeon and the edge of the other rack.
Graham heard a roar from Ian and then felt the rack jump back at him.  Ian shoved hard.  Graham redoubled his efforts.  His shoes were slipping on the floor.  He could feel Ian quickly overpowering him.  In seconds the rack would be free and Ian would be on him –wounded and furious.  Graham glanced over in Peggy Lee’s direction.  She remained frozen in the corner of the room.  “God damn you!  Get over here and help me push or he’s going to kill me!” he yelled at her.