SJF – Chapter 20

This entry is part 20 of 25 in the series SJF Chapters

background-tile3.jpgThe doors to the elevator closed, and Darius had no idea where they were going. He’d finished his lunch break with Manny and Z-Boe—if you could call it a lunch break at four in the morning—when Manny said it was time for the most important part of the tour. Manny asked Z-Boe to come along as they went to someplace called the Cage.

For the first time since Darius had met him, Z-Boe stopped smiling. “Why would anyone want to go there?” asked Z-Boe.

Darius remembered Amina mentioning something about the Cage earlier. With Z-Boe’s reaction, he wondered if he wanted to go there—even though he didn’t know what it was.

The elevator passed the first sub-basement, followed by the second and third. Darius watched as the readout on the control panel signaled the passing of the fourth sub-basement. He looked over at Z-Boe for a moment, and if he didn’t know better, Darius would have sworn the Galaxus looked scared.

The elevator doors opened to reveal a security outpost, and a long corridor that stretched almost one hundred yards beyond it. Darius immediately noticed that the six men standing at the security outpost were heavily armed and dressed in body armor. He had yet to see anyone armed at HQ—let alone wearing body armor—and the sight of six men standing guard in the fifth sub-basement made Darius unnerved.

Whatever these guys are guarding, I don’t want to see it, Darius thought, visions of giant mutant rats or the blood-serpents of Doc Kaos running through his brain.

Manny greeted the six men by name—no jokes, no friendly exchanges. He didn’t even bother to introduce Darius to the guards—which was fine with Darius. None of the guards could be defined as friendly, their deadly seriousness making them standoffish and intimidating.

“Heard you were having trouble,” said Manny.

“Standard techno-plasm discharge,” said one of the guards. The name on his identity badge read Manigo. Of the six guards, he was the only one who didn’t look like he wanted to shoot Manny. “A crew from MAS came by, ran a diagnostic, and everything checks out.”

“I’ll go over the report later,” said Manny. “In the meantime, I wanna show this trainee here what’s in the Cage.”

“Really? Why?” asked Manigo.

“That’s what I said,” added Z-Boe.

Darius didn’t like the tone in either man’s voice. They sounded nervous, which made him nervous.

“We can always come back some other time,” said Darius.

“No,” said Manny. “You need to see this tonight.”

Manny led the way down the long corridor, followed closely by Darius, Z-Boe, Manigo and a second guard, Seavers. Half way down the corridor, Manny stopped beside a security control panel on the wall. He motioned for Darius to come stand by his side.

Manny pointed down the corridor. “What do you see?” he asked.

There was a huge double-door at the far end of the corridor that looked big enough to drive a truck through.

“A big door at the end of the hall,” said Darius.

“Look carefully,” said Manny.

Darius didn’t know what he was supposed to be looking at or looking for, but he felt certain that there was nothing else to see in the corridor. Then he noticed, less than two feet in front of him, the slightest of reflections. He almost couldn’t see it, but once he finally noticed, it became quite clear—a reflection of himself, Manny, Z-Boe and the guards. He took two steps forward, reached out to touch what felt like a piece of glass, vibrating with an energy source.

“It’s a force field,” said Manny.

Manny swiped his identity badge along the security panel, and followed it up by punching in a series of numbers into the keypad. In an instant, the force field disappeared, and in that same instant, a series of overhead red lights came on and lit up the corridor.

Darius grew increasingly nervous. Having no idea of what was going on, where he was, or what he was about to be shown, made him very uncomfortable. The red lights only made it worse, like they were all in a hallway to Hell.

He walked beside Manny, not saying a word, with Z-Boe and the security guards following behind. They reached the massive door at the end of the corridor.

“I hate this place,” said Z-Boe.

Darius heard something that sounded like fear in Z-Boe’s voice.

Manny turned to face Darius and placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “That force field back there is the exact same strength as the ones used at SJF Moon Outpost and at the Enceladus Colony. A blast from a bazooka at point-blank range wouldn’t put a dent in that thing,” said Manny. “The room I’m about to show you—I want you to know the entire room is surrounded by a force field five times stronger than the one back there. State-of-the-art Tess-Tech design, reinforced with a techno-plasm infusion.”

Darius felt sick in the pit of his stomach. Whatever he’s about to show me, I don’t wanna see it, Darius thought. Let’s just keep it locked up here, underground, behind a techno-plasm infused force field, and pretend that I saw whatever it is.

A second security panel rested on the wall, just by the massive double-door. Manny motioned for Manigo to come by his side. The guard swiped his identity badge along the security panel, and then punched in a code. Manny did the same thing, explaining to Darius, “It takes two people to open the Cage at all times.”

At first Darius didn’t even know what he was looking at. It appeared almost like a huge warehouse full of scrap metal. But after a moment, the metal looked like something. Mannequins. The scrap metal looked like mannequins—for a few seconds anyway. Then the mannequins looked more like skeletons wrapped in metal. Or maybe those killer robots from that one movie, Darius thought. And then he knew what he was looking.

When the full realization of what Darius saw dawned on him, he threw up his lunch.

The smell of his vomit quickly filled the corridor as Darius Logan stared into a room full of Automated Combat Units, model 64. And ACU-64s were what murdered his family.

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