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Over the Top Secret - Chapter 5
AKA Sh*t Happens
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Start at the beginning (Prologue - AKA Mission Report)
Read the previous chapter (Chapter 4 - AKA Critical Failure)
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Beep… beep… beep…
The steady drum of digital beeping gently awakens me. My entire body is heavy, surrounded by comfy fluffiness. I slowly regain consciousness, the constant flow of breath in and out of my lungs a comforting rhythm.
Man… what a crazy dream I had. I must have been entirely out of it on the plane ride. But how did I get home?
My stomach grumbles. I’m starving. The low hum of heavy electrical equipment seeps into my ears. I take a slow, steady breath.
It smells… sterile, like cleaning supplies. Mom must have gone on a cleaning spree before my arrival. Oh snap, I must have imagined that whole pina colada thing, too. I take another deep breath. The motion brings awareness to my incredibly sore ribs and stomach muscles. In fact, all my muscles are sore. It’s as if I fell down the side of a mountain.
Wait a minute…
I try to open my eyes, but I can’t. They won’t budge. I stifle a scream.
Where the heck am I?
Think, Julie, think. I fight to calm my pulse, which is threatening to break the light barrier. Okay, if I can’t see, then I’ll just try to hear. I focus on the sounds, even the smallest high-pitched whine of… is that fluorescent lighting? A faint scribbling noise flows through the air from behind me, a pen on paper. Is someone else in here with me?
Ohmygod. Someone is in here with me!
I try to open my eyes again. Nothing. Open, damn it! My left eyelid flutters open. I blink the blur out of my vision until the space around me becomes clear.
I frantically take in the space in search of the mystery person. I’m lying on a single bed in a large, white room. Frosted glass walls reach from the shiny white tiled floor to the metallic ceiling about fifteen feet above. Fluorescent rectangles shed bright white light down into the room, adding to the cold atmosphere.
But I don’t see anyone.
The AC kicks on with a whir, drawing my attention to the silver, cylindrical ventilation system lining the perimeter of the ceiling. A few monitors stand to my left, displaying my heartbeat and other vital functions alongside a whole slew of readings I’m not familiar with. It looks like a combination of numbers, colorful patterns, and squiggly lines.
Is this some kind of hospital?
A door opens behind me.
“… but I got it back, of course. I’m telling you, she’s a pain in the ass.” Eric’s boisterous voice fills the room.
My God, it was real! The realization strangely calms me for a moment, as it proves I wasn’t imagining it all. Then my pulse beats in my throat again because that means I’ve been abducted by a man who explodes planes and people midair.
“She doesn’t listen, she’s unpredictable, and her voice is annoying,” he continues.
“You clearly put her in a horrific situation, Eric.” A woman’s voice. She sounds older, maybe in her late forties. “I’m just relieved you managed to get her back here alive.” The door shuts. “Hello, Simon,” she says.
“Good afternoon, Director. Eric.” This voice sounds like a teenage boy. He must be Simon.
“Look, it’s clear she’s not the right person for this,” Eric says. “We’re going to have to find someone else.”
I want to shout out, “I’m not the right person for what? Where am I? Could you move a little closer so I can see who I’m dealing with, here?” But my voice is strangled within me and I can barely keep my one eye open.
The woman sighs. “Let’s see what we have here first, alright?” says the woman. “Simon, were you able to learn anything while we were gone?”
“Actually, yes,” the teenage boy says. He speaks with an air of knowledge like that of a Star Trek doctor. “Though, it’s inconclusive due to her being unconscious. However, I’m quite excited at what my initial readings suggest.” The energy in his voice increases as he talks. “It looks as though she is experiencing an allergic reaction to the transfer of information. She’s capable of retaining much more data than my simple test message contained. Look at this.” He steps around to the front of my bed.
I quickly close my eye, suddenly not too eager to reveal that I’m awake. These people are clearly using me for something, and I want to know more. But if Eric sees me awake, he’ll surely stick me with his needle again. Gulp. More footsteps follow.
“Do you see this pattern at the bottom, here?” Simon asks.
“What is it?” Eric says.
While I suppose they’re all focused on the monitors, I sneak a quick peek.
A short, pudgy red-headed teenager points to the screen. This must be Simon. His wavy red hair stands out against the stark white of his lab coat, and his bright, wide eyes take in the data on the screens excitedly. It’s oddly off-putting for such confident science talk to be coming from so young a person. He continues to talk, his pudgy hands becoming as animated as his freckled face. I don’t have a clue what the mumbo-jumbo he’s saying means.
He’s about a foot shorter than Eric, who’s standing beside him with his arms crossed, frowning. Eric is wearing exactly what he was wearing when I met him, but it’s a clean set of clothes. His closet must be a collection of the same white cotton shirt and black leather jackets. Which, honestly, I can understand. I mean, why not keep wearing what works? I’d probably do the same if I knew what worked for me.
Behind Eric, a tall, tan woman with slightly frizzy shoulder-length brown hair squints at the screens, holding a clipboard. She’s wearing a pantsuit with a silky violet shirt underneath. Her name tag reads “PENELOPE BARNES, T.O.P.S.E.C.R.E.T. DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS.” The bags under her eyes, combined with her slumped over posture, give her an air of exasperation.
“These consistently flowing shapes show me that her brain is working out the data right now,” Simon explains impatiently. “The oscillating colors suggest there’s something unusual about the way her mind is interpreting the information. I’m guessing it’s her brain’s way of organizing the data, but I’ll have no way of knowing until she wakes up.” He says the last part with palpable anticipation.
“Or her brain is about to explode.” Eric snorts. Simon’s eyes light up, as if he hadn’t considered that outcome. The Director gives Eric a pointed look, but he ignores her. If I could, I’d slap the excitement right out of him. “I’m telling you guys, she’s clearly not the right fit for this.”
The Director turns to him. “Yes, obviously, you were the agency’s first choice, Eric, but you didn’t make the cut.”
“Test me again,” he says, like a threat.
“My data was entirely conclusive, Eric,” says Simon. “Your brain is not capable of handling the information—”
“Yeah, yeah. Fine. Let’s just mess with her brain, wipe her memory, and send her home.”
“Eric, why are you so against this?” The Director asks. “Julie is the first person to respond at all to Simon’s test. Don’t you at least want to know why?”
He presses his lips into a thin line.
“She’s quite a unique specimen,” Simon says. “Once I learn what makes her so special, I plan to initiate the next stage of the project.” He smiles with a hundred thoughts dancing behind his eyes.
The Director adds, “With my approval, of course.”
Her voice snaps Simon from his daydreams. “Of course,” he nods.
“I’m excited, too, Simon,” The Director says. “If it isn’t a fluke, I think this could be the biggest breakthrough in modern history.”
Jesus, they’re talking about me like I’m some kind of lab rat. As if I’m not right here next to them.
My breathing turns shallow. The beeping on my heart rate monitor increases rapidly. They all shift toward me. I squeeze my eye shut, trying to make it look like I’m in the middle of a fascinating dream.
“She’s waking up!” says Simon. He rushes over to his desk and rifles through some papers. “We need to prep the truth serum.”
Truth serum? What the…
A buzzing sound alerts The Director. She checks her phone and gives another deep sigh. “I’m being summoned elsewhere.” She shoves her phone back in her pocket and adjusts her clipboard. “Let me know when your testing is complete,” she says, blocking Simon’s path out of the room and forcing him to look right at her as she continues. “I’d like to meet her.”
Simon nods and pushes past her, collecting more papers.
The Director turns to Eric. “Eric, could you please file an official damage report for all the unnecessary destruction you left in your wake—again.”
“It was one plane, Penelope. Just take inventory of what I dropped off in the debrief room. You’ll see what I used and what I didn’t.”
“You need to call me ‘Director,’ and that’s the kind of information that should be in your logs. Please leave them on my desk in the next half hour.”
“Can’t. I told Simon I’d help him with the truth serum.” Eric puts an arm around Simon.
“You did?” Simon asks. Eric steers him toward the door.
“Let’s make it extra strong, and add some muscle relaxants, too,” Eric whispers, leading Simon out into the hall. “She’s surprisingly feisty.”
“Ooh, tell me more,” Simon says as the door closes behind them.
The Director closes her eyes. Her watch beeps and she taps the touch screen. A digital male voice says, “Time to relax! Let’s get that blood pressure down. Begin simple breathing exercise—”
She silences the message with a forceful jab of her finger. After a moment of standing with her eyes closed and her lips pursed, The Director straightens her posture and scribbles on her clipboard papers, her heels click-clacking as she walks down the hallway. The door shuts behind her.
Silence, except for the heart rate monitor betraying my inner worry. I give myself a minute to figure out what I should do.
If this is real (why am I kidding myself, I know it is), one thing’s for sure—I need to get out of here before Simon starts messing with my brain. Though, I have to admit, I’m actually pretty curious. What kind of test did I pass? What information is in my head? What’s that tingly feeling?
A prickly sensation spreads through my toes. Then my fingertips. I cautiously test their functionality and am happily surprised to find them twitch back to life! Ha! Like an onslaught of pins and needles, the feeling washes over me from head to toe. I carefully stretch my whole body out. Everything feels bruised, but I can finally move again. I lightly touch my face, feeling for any kind of weird wires or (eek) needles.
There are a few round pads stuck to my temples. They’re connected to cables that run into the monitors. If I take them off, will Simon and Eric be alerted?
The threat pales in comparison to being subjected to truth serum with Eric in the room. Screw it. I need to get out of here pronto.
I rip the wired pads off my forehead and remove the heart rate monitor from my finger when I notice there’s a band-aid on my inner elbow.
Oh, God—they took my blood! I squeeze my eyes shut when the room starts wobbling. Now is not the time, Julie! Deep breath. I swing my lower half over the edge of the bed. The cold floor immediately wakes me up from my feet to my brain. I take in my surroundings with both eyes this time.
The only thing I couldn’t see before was a large metallic desk sitting against the wall behind me. The entire wall is covered in monitors and computer screens showing all kinds of scientific information. Half of it looks like computer code and mathematical equations. The other half seems like a combination of chicken-scratch notes and hastily scrawled doodles. I’m caught between being overcome with curiosity (what in the world is this information regarding?) and terror (have I gotten myself involved in a conspiracy theorist’s operation?)
There’s loose-leaf paper strewn all over the desk. Each page contains more notes and images of what looks like brains, DNA strands, and question marks. Right in the middle of the desk lies a large red button. The button reads, “LAUNCH,” and it’s sitting right beneath a monitor with a single image on it that says, “Project McGuffin.” Above the desk is an air vent.
Ha! I’ll crawl out, just like in the movies.
As I sneak over to Simon’s desk, I notice my butt feels cold. Why does my butt feel cold? I look down—I’m wearing a hospital gown. Damn these crazy strangers! They took my clothes and my blood. And my fanny pack! Wait. Ohmygod—did they see my bare ass? I push away the unnerving thought and instead focus on the task at hand. Maybe they hid my things in Simon’s desk.
I yank open the metal desk drawer closest to me, half expecting to spot my granny panties and my fanny pack right away. When all I find are pens and more loose-leaf paper, my stomach drops. Damn! There’s no time to investigate, though. Simon and Eric will probably be back any second.
I climb on top of the desk and unscrew the surprisingly flimsy vent with the only weapon on me—my thick fingernails. Then I use all the sore muscles in my body to hoist myself up and into the vent. I try to distribute my weight as evenly as possible atop the thin sheet of metal.
So far, so good. The space is actually much bigger than I thought. It’s almost as if these vents were made for escaping.
Guess that’s why everyone always does it in the movies.
Carefully, I screw the vent back in place while coming up with a plan of escape. I’ll crawl until I find a room with windows to the outside world. Then I’ll drop down when no one’s looking, break through the window, and run home. My stomach drops at the possibility that I’m on a secret prison floating in the middle of the ocean, in which case there would absolutely be no running home. Either that or I’m still in the middle of the desert and I’ll die of exposure. Best not to think of that until I find the window room.
Alright. Which way should I go? Left. That seems like the way out. With my first crawling movement, my knee makes a crater in the metal.
What is this made of, aluminum foil?
I better move fast before the floor gives way. Just as I take another crawling step forward, the door opens to the room below. I freeze.
“What a fascinating new subject,” Simon’s voice enters the room below me. “I cannot wait to start diagnostics testing—and just when things were getting boring around here!” I realize he has a slight lisp when he says, “fascinating” and “subject.” Through the slits in the vent, I can see he’s holding a tiny vial of purple liquid.
“Let’s try to keep the science talk to a minimum,” says Eric. They stop in their tracks at the sight of my empty bed.
“Where’d the test subject go?” Simon gasps.
Eric groans. “I’ll tell security to seal the exits.”
My other knee creates a second dent with a loud “THUNG.” Eric and Simon look to the ceiling. The metal groans, echoing through the entire vent system.
Turns out, the movies were lying.
SCHOO! I fall right through the vent. My bare ass lands smack-dab on Simon’s launch button.
I topple onto the cold floor. Immediately my brain is flooded with images, just like in my apartment after the career quiz. Except for this time, it all feels much heavier, much more real.
Flashes of all kinds of colorful information flicker before me in an uncontrollable surge of information.
High-tech futuristic weapons designs, blueprints for buildings, and gadgets I’ve never seen before command my attention.
Vehicle breakdowns, mugshots, zoomed-in photos of a thousand different people, and text files with so much redacted information there’s barely anything readable in them—they all fly by under my eyelids at a hundred miles an hour.
Clips of silhouetted figures robbing banks and building weapons, and videos of violent acts as if I’m the one committing them bring tears to my eyes.
My eyelids flutter, my muscles twitch, and I’m pretty sure I’m drooling.
“She just launched Project McGuffin!” Simon cries. “My God, the possibilities,” he murmurs.
Eric says, “Unbelievable.” I tell my spasming legs to kick him in the groin, but they smack him in the ankles instead.
I can only hope my convulsing expressions convey that I’m glaring at him.
“Do you have any idea what you just did?” Eric asks me.
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