Unapologetic (Full text of 2nd Draft)

The following is an original story which is part of a collection that I’m presenting at my other blog Unlikely Realm. So if you want to be an early adopter, one of the cool kids, or just love a good yarn, visit and subscribe today. And now, on with the story…

It’s all about control, thought Riley. It’s in how you dress, in the way you talk, and even in how you think. We need to make rules, and we need to keep them. If we don’t then we are no better than animals. Today, however, he would break one of his rules. Today, he would take something that wasn’t his. It wasn’t for revenge or necessity, but for profit. The first and most important rule was to survive. In this world, money was power.

It had taken him only three days to crack the security system and learn an administration level password. After seventy-two hours of posing as a janitor, he was ready to take down one of the most secure buildings in the city. Sometimes, he impressed even himself. He would almost miss his new job, he thought. A simple routine, and no one around to bother you. But in his heart he knew he could never last more than a few weeks before he would be bored to tears. That kind of daily grind wears you down in no time. It uses you up and spits you out, with nothing but a handshake and a kick out the door when you were too old to work anymore. This was no place for a man of his abilities. Still, for a few days, it was almost like a vacation.

It was time to get back to work. There was an element of excitement, but he had to stifle that as best as he could. Emotion led to mistakes, and there could be no mistakes if he were to succeed here tonight. This is nothing like the movies, he thought. Flash and style were everything for big movie stars, but in the real world they will get you killed. Quiet and quick, with no trace left behind, that was his only signature. It was what made him the best at what he did, and why he earned the paychecks he did.

He timed his routine to arrive at the security office just as the guard was leaving for his scheduled break. The fool is actually holding the door open for me, he thought. Such a nice guy. It’s a shame they’ll probably fire him tomorrow for what I’m about to do. He dumped the trash can as he was supposed to as the guard stood and waited impatiently in the hallway waiting for Riley to finish. As he bent down to replace the can, his fingers reached under the bank of video monitors long enough to place a surprise there. It was a cigarette-sized lump of putty with a small circuit board attached. It was not a bomb in the traditional sense. Such things were for madmen and radicals. He was neither of those. No, there was no need to blow up a building when a puff of smoke would do. Subtlety was the hallmark of an artist. He would leave brute force for the the brutes of the world. He gave a curt nod to the guard, who locked the door behind him on his way out.

Riley continued on his rounds, counting down the minutes and then the seconds until the device was triggered. He didn’t need a watch. He could keep perfect time in his head even before his other abilities had manifested themselves. As a child he had been the poster boy for the tragically uncoordinated. Rarely would a day go by where he was not tripping over his own feet or smashing his shins into every protruding obstacle.

All that would change as he hit puberty. Almost overnight he became a star athlete, the envy of his peers. He got stronger and quicker every day until his prowess became almost legend. Soon, he was performing feats that should have been impossible. At first, the praise and adulation were intoxicating. What kid wouldn’t want that kind of validation. But it had started to draw some unwanted attention as well.

One night as a play-off game was about to start, alarm bells started to sound in his head. It was not a metaphorical alarm like most people would mean it. For him, it was like an extra sense that let him perceive and react to the world around him with heightened speed and accuracy. It let him throw and catch better than a pro athlete and dodge opponents like he was made of wind. Other people were just pieces on a chessboard, but he saw the whole game at once. He was a player, not a pawn.

That evening two men in dark suits had joined the crowd at the stadium. They had not come to cheer on their sons, or even just to enjoy some amateur sports. No, they had come to watch and judge, and he was the one on trial. To Riley the sense of menace that these two posed was as clear as if they were pointing a gun at him.

Riley decided he would have an “off night”. He consciously and uncharacteristically threw a few plays, hoping that would throw the men off his trail. He even faked a muscle pull in the second half and sat out the rest of the game. By the time the final whistle had blown, the men were gone and the hot coal of anxiety in his mind had almost completely faded away. That was a close call, he decided. He would never let them get that close again.

His internal clock roused him back to the present. Enough of this daydreaming, he thought. He had work to do and it was almost time. Riley got into position near the top of the stairs. From this position he could see the security camera standing sentinel in the hallway but it couldn’t see him. He waited. The guard would return soon.

In the control room, the smell of burning plastic was interrupted by sparks flying out of the video monitor console. The package that Riley had placed there earlier was now being delivered. As the putty burned, it caused shorts to form along the circuitry and the result was a satisfactory fireworks display, even though the damage itself was relatively minor. The men here were well trained though, and they would shut down the affected system before the fire could spread. It was always best to use an opponents strengths against them. That way their strength became your strength. From his hidden corner, he watched the red light on the camera go out. It was show time.

He would have to move quickly now. Riley pushed his cart into the nearby bathroom and stripped off his coveralls. Underneath, he wore black trousers and a white dress shirt. From its hiding place on the cart, he pulled out a white lab coat and put it on. He fished out his tie from the pocket of the coat and slipped that on as well. Lastly, he peeled the wig off of his head and tossed it in the trash. He moved to the mirror to check his appearance, and pulled the last bits of spirit gum from his neatly shaved pate. Now he looked like a proper scientist.

Protocol stated that all available guards would move to seal off the exits and other sensitive areas. He checked the hallway to make sure the coast was clear and then bolted to the stairwell. Three floors down he went, below even the underground parking levels, to the subbasement. That was where they kept the computer labs, safe from prying eyes. Now the next stage of his plan could begin.

The key to any good lie is confidence. If you could play the part, they would accept you. The building was like a living organism and the guards were its antibodies. Just make them believe you belong and they’ll ignore you. A minute ago he had been a janitor, now he was a computer technician. As he came out of the stairwell door, he clipped his forged pass to his coat.

The guard at the lab entrance was sitting at a desk apparently enthralled by a detective novel he was reading. He barely glanced up as Riley approached, satisfied that the proper credentials were being displayed. He had long ago decided that his post was superfluous at best. There were two checkpoints and half a dozen locked doors between this lab and the outside world. Even if you got this far, a security airlock hold hold you captive if you didn’t have the proper pass. Nobody could get in here. Nobody even knew this place existed, except the few dozen people who worked here.

Riley kept a stoic appearance, trying not to show his relief at the guard’s lack of interest. He stepped into the airlock and let the door close behind him. From his pocket he pulled a second ID card. This one he had stolen from the security office yesterday. It effectively gave his a key to any door in the building. For a few anxious seconds he waited for the system to respond, but finally the door opened. He was inside the lab.

At this hour, the lab was deserted except for a few technicians, who were busy with problems of their own. It was said you needed a PhD just to mop the floors in this lab, and, from the look of some of the equipment, it might be true. Riley quickly found an empty office and sat down at the computer terminal. He logged on with his stolen credentials. He slipped the portable hard-drive out of his pocket and hooked it up to the port. He searched the system for all the most recent research logs, schematics, and diagrams, picking the most interesting and copying them to the drive.

A warning signal seared his mind as he heard footsteps in the hall behind him. He slid a binder over top of the hard-drive, masking it from sight. As the door opened behind him, he stood up to block the monitor. A middle-aged balding man stood in the doorway. He had the almost cliché, disheveled appearance of middle-management.

“You must be the new guy they promised me last week,” he said. “Fitzgerald, wasn’t it?”

Riley unclenched his fist and relaxed his body a little. His ruse was still intact. There was still time. “Yes, sir. That’s me.” He walked towards the man, arm out for a handshake.

The man somewhat reluctantly shook his hand. “I’m Jenkins, night supervisor. You were supposed to report to me as soon as you got here.”

“Sorry,” Riley said, “we must have gotten our wires crossed.” He gave an awkward laugh. It had the appropriate amount of nervousness that would be expected from a new employee being confronted by his boss. Once again, Riley regretted not going into acting.

Unamused, Jenkins waved for Riley to follow. “C’mon. I’ll give you the grand tour before I give you your first assignment.” He fell in behind the sad little man, pretending to be properly cowed.

“The offices are for the senior research staff only,” he continued, pointing out the places in the lab as he went. “Don’t go in there unless I tell you to. My office is at the end of the hall, there. You are to report to me at the start of your shift. If I’m not there when you come in, wait for me. Across the hall is the lunchroom. Please don’t cook anything too noxious in the microwave. The ventilation isn’t the best down here.”

Riley was quickly becoming annoyed at the weaselly little man, and wondered how much longer he could go before he hit him. He bit down hard on his anger, and tried to keep his mind from wandering. This man, despite his appearance, was dangerous to him. He couldn’t afford to forget that for a second.

“Now, I’ll show you what it’s all about.” Jenkins started walking to the room at the far end of the lab. Now he had Riley’s full attention. He couldn’t have asked for a better stroke of luck. The sad little man was leading him right towards the motherlode. If he could get a look at their top project, it would mean a significant bonus for him.

The small lab was a clean room with a large window for observation at one end. Two men were working inside, dressed in the obligatory white paper jumpsuits. Jenkins tapped sharply on the glass and gave a thumbs up signal. One of he men waved back and reached over and grabbed the control box for the overhead winch.

In the centre of the lab was a metal workbench. Resting on top of it was an unfamiliar machine, about the size of a car engine. There were tubes and wires coming out if it, making it look more like a movie prop than a piece of scientific equipment. Riley was disappointed. Even if he knew what this thing was, it looked too technical to glean any useful information from in a casual viewing. He could feel his bonus slipping away.

As the chains tightened, the strange apparatus was lifted up off the table. Riley realized that this was just testing equipment for something else inside. His hopes began to rise and he leaned forward to get a better look.

What he saw next was impossible. A large crystal, elegantly cut with a thousand faces sat on pedestal in the middle of the workbench. From the brilliance and the way it caught the light, he was almost sure it could be only one thing.

It was a diamond.

And it was the size of his head.

Riley couldn’t stop looking at it. He knew the largest stones ever found would still fit in the palm of his hand. Those rocks were all famous, often with sordid histories that eclipsed their owner’s notoriety. That this jewel was a secret was beyond his ability to rationalize. It’s very existence should be worldwide headline news.

The light danced off of it, as if it was moving, but Riley knew it was just an illusion. His own legs were always subtly shifting, trying to keep his upright body in balance. That was what made it seem to sparkle. Still, the flashes seemed to have a pattern to them, like a language he couldn’t understand. It was utterly mesmerizing. It seemed almost alive, like it was speaking to him. If he were very still and quiet, he thought he could hear a voice.

It was saying get out. Get out, now.

The alarm bell in his head snapped him back to reality. He had been here too long already. He took one last longing look at the gem. However much he might desire it, he knew it was impossible. There was no way he could ever get out of the building with it. He would be lucky if he got out of here as it was. If he had known that it was here, if he could have planned for it, it might have been a different story. But right now, there was no time for regret.

When the real alarm sounded, he was already in position. Jenkins turned to say something but he never got the chance. A quick shot to the throat left him slumped on the ground, gagging and struggling to breathe. The two technicians in the lab were slow to catch on to what was happening. They were stunned by the suddenness and speed of the attack. Finally one started towards the phone, while the other tried to secure the diamond back in its protective housing.

Riley was already gone. He headed straight back to the office to grab the hard drive. While he couldn’t have his prize, he certainly wasn’t about to leave empty handed either. He slipped the portable drive in his shirt pocket and headed back out into the hallway.

Just as he opened the door a uniformed guard appeared, but Riley was ready for him. When the guard saw the white lab coat, he was expecting a compliant technician. That second of complacency was all he needed. He swept the guard at the knees and knocked him to the floor. With the guard’s own handcuffs, he locked the man’s wrist to the door handle. A second later, Riley was out in the hall tossing away the man’s keys.

The next one won’t be so easy, he thought. By now, they’ll have a description and they’ll be expecting me. The plan was to be gone before the alarm sounded. Now he was going to have to fight off a small army just to stay alive. But that’s all right. I can handle a few guards. The problem is going to be the airlock. His plans had fallen apart. He would have to improvise.

Almost on cue, the next two guards showed up. One on the left with a nightstick, the other with a stun gun. He went to his left, dodging a swing from the club. Slipping off his coat, he wrapped it around the man’s head and swung him around just in time to catch the darts from the taser in the chest. He released the coat and the guard slumped to the ground in convulsions. Grabbing the nightstick, Riley whipped it at the other guard’s face, breaking his nose with an audible crack.

He ran as fast as he could. Soon every guard in the building would be on top of him, and that was more than even he could handle. He went the only way he could, towards the airlock and certain capture. The doorway itself was sandwiched between a large pane of shatterproof glass on either side. If he’d had a gun, he might have been able to weaken one of them enough to burst through. Maybe he could have even taken a prisoner. A gun was never an option though. He was lucky to have gotten the tiny flash drive through the metal detectors. What he needed was a miracle.

On the other side of the glass, the same novel-reading guard that had ignored him before was standing there with a wicked grin on his face. Whether he had been inspired by his paperback hero or was simply looking to relieve his boredom, Riley couldn’t tell. The guard stood there with one hand on his taser, ready to draw like some sheriff in a western. Riley knew he was beaten. As soon as he stepped into that booth, he would be trapped until the rest of the guards came. They wouldn’t let him live, not after what he had seen. He just wished the door would open so he could wipe that smirk of that guy’s face.

As soon as he thought it, both doors of the airlock buzzed and opened at once. It was hard to say which of them was more surprised. The airlock was specifically designed not to do that. Only one door should be open at any time. Riley was going to get his miracle after all.

He was the first to react, charging headlong into the guard, he knocked him into the far wall by the elevator. The taser had discharged harmlessly into the ceiling tiles, making the lights flicker for a moment. Out of breath, the guard slumped forward, and Riley gave him a whack to the back of his head with his own nightstick, knocking him out.

As he continued his escape up the stairs, he thought, I guess I only have two wishes left. I should probably make one of them getting out of here in one piece. He was still far from an exit, and they were closing in on all sides. He decided his best shot was get to his car on the lower parking level and run the gate. Up the stairs, three at a time, he raced until he could see the exit door.

The alarm in his head went off again, but it was too late this time. As he burst through the door into the underground garage, a searing pain burst in his chest, and he felt his legs go weak. He fell to his knees as the electric shock ran through his body. Two guards had been waiting for him and one had nailed him with his stun gun. It was only a matter of time now until the end.

Riley felt weak and clumsy. He was that awkward boy again who couldn’t walk across the room without tripping over his own feet. It was like everything that had made him special had vanished in an instant. He had never felt so helpless. Even the warning bell in his head had gone silent. All he could do was crouch down on his hands and knees and try to breathe. As he stared at the cold cement floor, he felt tired. In a way, he was almost glad it was over.

“We’ve got you now.” One of the guards moved around behind him with his handcuffs out. “Just do what you’re told and this will go a lot easier on you.”

Yeah, Riley thought, until someone puts a bullet in my brain. He looked down at his chest. One of the darts had pierced his skin right above his heart, but the other was stuck in the casing of the portable drive in his pocket. That small amount of insulation had spared him from the full force of the taser’s shock. But from the whiff of burnt plastic, he knew its precious contents had been wiped out as well. Now he was just angry.

All at once, he felt his strength return, and with it came his will to live. His strategic mind worked overtime and in a split second had devised a new plan. Like someone had thrown a switch, he saw the way out of this trap. As the guard was about to grab his wrist, Riley sprang up and pulled the electrodes from his chest. He swung around the man, wrapping the wires once around the guard’s neck before plunging the darts in his back.

Seeing Riley get up, the first guard pulled the trigger to deliver another shock. Too late he realized his mistake as his partner went into convulsions and fell to the floor. He dropped the taser and came rushing at Riley with his club drawn.

Riley was waiting for him. He caught the man’s arm as he swung it down. Falling backwards he pulled the smaller man on top of him. Using the momentum of the charge and a push with his legs, Riley catapulted the guard upside-down into he steel stairwell door behind him. He landed with a satisfying thud that left him momentarily senseless. Riley picked up the handcuffs that the other guard had dropped as he rolled out of his backwards somersault. Wrenching the disoriented man’s arm almost out of its socket, he chained him to the stairwell door.

Behind the closed door, he could hear the boots of more guards coming down the stairs. The elevator was moving as well, coming slowly but surely towards him. He checked the camera and saw the light was on. They had seen through his earlier ruse and were coming in full force. He had to get out of here now.

The guard who had been shocked was starting to stir so Riley pulled off his tie and pinned the man’s arms behind his back. He dragged him over to the wall and tied him to a water pipe. It was an imperfect solution, but it would have to do.

“You’re dead!” shouted the one chained to the door. “When I get my hands on you, you’re fucking dead. You hear me?!”

Riley heard but didn’t care. He was already moving again and didn’t have time to waste on empty bravado. It would take just a few seconds to get to his car. More guards emerged from the stairwell, but they paused to check on their comrades. He had the car door open and he was inside. Riley started the engine and the guards all turned to look. Slamming down on the accelerator, he clipping the cement pillar as he backed out. As he shifted into drive, the rear window exploded into a million pieces and rained down into the backseat. Orders had come down from on high and they had switched to bullets. They had given up any pretense of taking him alive.

He gunned the motor and sped off towards the exit ramp. The car shuddered as more bullets hit the trunk. The sound of the gunfire and the screaming engine was deafening in the enclosed space of the garage. Riley sped up the ramp to the upper parking level where another guard was waiting for him. That one put two rounds in the door before he was out of range. Beside him the door panel snapped and cracked, but no bullets came through. It would take more than a 9mm to punch through the steel plates we had put in the door frames and over the radiator. It paid to plan ahead. He was almost out.

At the exit, the gate was down and the garage door was closed. A guard walked out of the security booth with his gun drawn and took a couple of shots at the speeding car. One of the shots shattered the the windshield, but Riley didn’t slow down. Instead, he sped directly at the closed door. The guard, seeing the car was not going to stop, ran back into the booth to keep from getting run over.

Ramming the door was never Riley’s plan, however. He veered at the last second and rammed the car into the booth. The back end swung out and hit the wall wedging the car firmly in the only exit. He stepped out of the car and hopped up on the hood.

Unconscious and bleeding, the guard was pinned by the car and slumped down on the hood. Riley reached into the wreckage of the booth and hit the button to open the door. As it rolled up to reveal the night sky beyond, more guards could be heard coming up behind him. But as he had blocked the only exit, they would be forced to come after him on foot. He was more than a match for any of them, and he quickly slipped away. Ten minutes later he was at his safe house in a rundown apartment building halfway across downtown.

There would be hell to pay for this disaster. His employer would not be happy with tonight’s outcome. Not only had he blown his cover and caused some major damage, but also he had nothing to show for it. Nothing except a wild story about a giant diamond. What was that thing and where did it come from? What were they doing with it? These questions were going to bother him until he got an answer.

He was going to need a new plan.

A short story by Sean Sandulak Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved — Names, characters, places, and events are used fictitiously or satirically, and are the product of the author’s overactive imagination. Any resemblance to actual locations, incidents or persons, living, dead or otherwise, is a complete coincidence and the product of your imagination. This is a work of fiction. (Some photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)

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Crazed recluse and sociophobe who has taken up writing after failing at everything else. Send pizza.

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