Aja swung around at the base of the stairs to an explosion of red, the ear-piercing sounds of rapid gunfire, and a mute visual of her sister Lilly mouthing "Run!"
"Run Aja! RUN!" was the last thing she heard before seeing the open end of a pistol pointed down at her from atop the stairwell.
Pausing for only a moment, she hesitated; fight or flight? Flight. She began running around the vast open space along the catwalk when she witnessed the unmistakable visual and sounds of bullets impacting rocks and metal around her. She stole a glance over her shoulder to see one guard walking and shooting in pursuit and two above shooting or preparing to shoot at her. She came to another stairwell and decided to go down one level to lose them.
Even here there was nowhere to hide. She ran in the opposite direction looking around. Above her, four move levels, but those stopped at the top. She’d already looked down and knew it went, and went, and went. Clang! Another miss, but not by far. Aja eyed the area one last time, saw nothing of use and shifted hard right leaping over the waist-high rail to the nothing below.
The fog was thick on the crisp April morning. A five-year-old Aja and her father were starting a campfire. Breakfast had to be made. The four Keen’s, Mr., Mrs., baby Lilly and herself were roughing it for a weekend near Natural Bridge Cove on the Oregon coast. Lilly and her mother were situating themselves in the tent before coming out to join Aja and her father.
After a light breakfast and hot chocolate, the group packed up the car and drove the two miles to the park for a day on the beach and some photo opportunities for Mrs. Keen. She was now a budding professional photographer. For the better part of the morning, they walked up and down the beach making small sand castles ever-so-often while combing the beach en route to their final destination of the morning, one of the northernmost natural bridges for photos.
They took the trail to the highest flat point to have a family lunch overlooking the rough Pacific waters below. While Mrs. Keen took photos, Mr. Keen and the two girls remained watching the waves hit the ancient rocks along the shore while nibbling at their food.
Mr. Keen began cleaning up after the kids as they sat nearby. "Honey, look at this," called Mrs. Keen pointing at a large Spruce tree that had fallen. As Mr. Keen turned to look at his wife to find a smile, he next saw her eyes grow wide with worry- "Where are they going?" she called pointing at her daughters walking away from their father’s distracted eye.
In the moments Mr. Keen looked away, Lilly started to the side of the rocky cliff with Aja following her. Before their father even had time to call out, Lilly tripped forward losing her balance to the edge. Aja didn’t think twice about jumping after her.
With screams of anguish, Mr. and Mrs. Keen rushed to the edge to find Aja holding her sister on her right hip standing upon a rock some seventy-five feet below. Unscathed. They wasted no time to run the zigzagging trail down to cliff’s side to assist their children. However, in the three minutes it took them to get below, Aja had already gotten down the remaining twenty-five with her smiling sister still on her hip.
Aja counted at least another three shots being fired towards her, but she couldn’t be sure with the wind rushing past her ears. Her plan- more of a last-ditch effort- was simple: put maximum distance between herself and her aggressors, and fast. She almost jumped outright but hesitated as she worked out how best assist her siblings. The odds were stacked against her; she didn’t have any offensive abilities. She wasn’t even sure if she had defensive ones for that matter.
As she fell horizontal to the ground below, she remained cognizant of how far she was going, as if it was happing in slow motion. Twenty-two, twenty-three, she counted to herself. She just tallied her twenty-fifth floor when she maneuvered he body perpendicular to the walls and began to slow in mid-air, the rush of air coming to a light breeze, making her way to the outside of railing of the thirty-sixth floor.
As she looked back up, she could no longer see beyond the fifteenth floor or so- the lower levels were not lit well. Looking down she could, in fact, see the bottom some fifty-feet below. What is this place? Then the heat hit her. It had to be at least 95 degrees and 99.9 percent humidity in the depths of the cavern.
Walking around the catwalk, on the thirty-sixth floor, she noticed that all the doors here were the same thick steel as above. With large keypad locks to the right and a three inch square opening on some but not others, and what looked like a mail slot about a third of the way up from the bottom of each of the doors. One door was ajar, about a quarter of the way around. The door had been in this position for some time, she figured, based on the amount of rust falling off the hinges as she pushed it open. Inside the small sterile room were a sink in one corner and an industrial steel commode next to it. To the right of that was a raised concrete platform with a plastic mattress on it. A prison cell, she thought wasting no to exit. As she scanned the rest of the level, and the next three above her and below, she found that each had 44 such rooms. Not a good place to hang out. Time to move.
Moving to the stairwell, she could hear a faint whistling sound coming from above. Carefully she walked towards the inside railing to look up. She couldn’t quite make out what she was seeing or hearing. Someone was coming after her; they had followed her to make sure she was dead. Turing on her heal she made for the stairs and turned to look just in time to see not one, but two people zoom past her without a hint of slowing down. Thud… thud.
Feeling braver than she ought she again walked to the railing to look down. She could clearly see the blobs of what were once bodies and the aftermath of a fall from over 30 stories above. Aja closed her eyes for a moment pushing back from the side of the catwalk and swallowing hard with the realization of what these people, them MAS people, were like.
Shaking it off Aja worked her way up the levels one at a time until she reached the twenty-fifth floor. Only twenty-five left to the top; she reminded herself. Somewhere, perhaps on the thirty-third floor, she found herself a one-inch steel pipe about two and a half feet long. Humph! You never know. She thought sitting it upon her shoulder. The last few floors, from twenty-two to here, were similar to where she was when she talked with Deputy Holliday a few hours before; a mix of office space and a few thick, secure doors. She had yet to see anyone, at least, until she’d gotten here.
Level twenty-five brought about a mix of dull sounding hisses, thuds, and clangs on the opposite side of the massive rocky cylinder while the other half, a soft hum of computer fans. Approximately eight doors wrapped around the space with two of them being glass- directly across from one another. Aja was nearly to the top of the a set of stairs when she saw a man step out of a “server room” door (the door did say "Computer/Server Room #2" on it), briefly pausing to say something to someone behind him, giving Aja a moment to back down the stairwell. Standing at the bottom of the stairs she followed the man with her eyes as he walked to the glass door on the other side of space. Back down on the twenty-fourth floor she found an elevator and realized that either each of the previous levels was lacking one, or perhaps she hadn’t noticed. Either way, it was of little consequence without an access device to open it.
She moved one flight up and about fifteen feet swiftly to the closest glass door stopping just short to look through the entry. She noticed this door also had a similar access point to unlock it. Nonetheless, she tried to open it- it opened, with a rush of cold air pushing against her face and whipping her hair around. She held the door for a moment then peered around the ledge to sneak another peek inside. The entry space was clear save for a few white lab coats hanging on the wall. Behind this lay several rows of tall computer server racks and a laptop at the end of every third row. From her limited view- there was nobody in sight.
Feeling it necessary to do so, she put on one of the lab coats, hesitating a moment to listen. Hearing not a sound aside from the buzzing computers she slowly stood up to look around. The room dust free and cold, provided a soothing hum of dozens and dozens of machines fans seemingly synchronized to some tune Aja had never heard before. To her right, she counted fifteen rows of servers, to the left another five. Moving forward to the far side of the row in front of her, carrying her steel pipe in her right hand- her batting hand- she was mesmerized by the amount of blinking red, orange, and green LEDs. On the far side peered around the corner to her right; she saw a white lab coat flowing the edge like a cape two rows down flowing behind. Aja quickly lurched back to the safety of her server row and banging the pipe on the metal casing creating a loud metal on metal clang- she froze. Listening.
Aja looked around. Left, right, up, down.
"Steve is that you," came a man’s voice.
She adjusted up her pipe.
"Hey man. Stop messing around. I’m trying to get these patches done," the man said as he rounded the corner. In front of him lay an empty row of, emptiness. The man walked over to the next row and still found nothing. Seemingly thinking he, in fact, heard nothing, he moved back down the rows to where he was working.
On top of the server farm, Aja lay a shaking, clutching her pipe too scared to move for a few moments. She did not have the power to fly but was instead granted the ability to levitate. Falling, with grace. She can’t go up, but can slowly go down. However, this time, something was different. She still couldn’t fly, but she was able to bring herself to a near zero-gravity state allowing her to pull herself up with little effort. She’s not sure how she did it. She was scared, and it worked- that’s all she cared about at this exact moment.
After a few minutes of no activity, Aja slowly lifted her head and looked around only to see all those same rows, just from the top. To her right, the far back left part of the room from where she entered, was a small sign that read “service elevator/ascenseur." She raised her eyebrows in curiosity. Rolling over on her stomach she inched her way forward to look over the side of the rack she was on. Seeing nothing she ‘fell with grace’ to the floor making, not a sound. Row by row she made her way to the end of the room to the elevator. From the end row, she stood across from the stark white doors of an elevator. To the right of the door was a pad with only two buttons with an up and down arrow and the name Otis written underneath them.
Aja quickly darted across the open walkway to press the up button with the sudden hope that in doing so wouldn’t make a sound. DING! Too late, she thought. However, the elevator was empty, and she wasn’t going to waste her time waiting for Mr. Computer Guy to check on the sound. She entered and quickly pressed the uppermost floor, nine, and the doors closed.
It didn’t move. Really, a card swipe? She sighed at the thought. The doors opened. She pressed the floor button again for good measure. The doors closed.
Before her stood her computer guy- with a swipe card hanging from his coat pocket.
"Who are you? You can’t be-" he started as he reached for a radio.
Without a hesitant thought, Aja raised her two and a half foot pipe up over her head and reversed direction bringing it down between the man’s head and shoulder as if she were breaking a rock with a sledgehammer. The man instantly fell to a heap on the ground with the radio crashing next to him. She didn’t wait to see if he was going to get back up, and instead quickly rolled the man over, taking the card clipped to his coat pocket then pulled him out of the way of the door.
Stepping back into the elevator she swiped the card, pressed nine, and waited. This time the elevator began moving.
This is part of my short web-serial, fiVe. Read the rest of the series here.