Chapter 5: Light of Day
Lex was bent down on one knee holding Amber, who continued to cry softly against his chest. Feeling uncomfortable, especially with Slade standing there watching him, he addressed the two men standing in the corridor. ‘So does anyone have any bright ideas as to how we’re going to get Jack out of there?’ Slade shrugged unhelpfully, while Ram just stared into the control room. ‘Ram? Hello? Earth to planet Ram!’
‘I heard you the first time, Lex’ came the reply.
‘Could’ve fooled me. So what are we going to do?’
‘If I head back to the generator room, I might be able to find a way to turn on the sprinklers manually.’
‘But what about Jack?’ Lex asked again.
‘We leave Jack where he is. I need the programme to be distracted if this is going to work.’
‘No way!’ Lex argued, extricating himself from Amber, who had stopped crying and was now listening intently to what Ram was saying. He stood opposite the Techno with one hand on his hip and the other making a jabbing motion with his finger in Ram’s direction to emphasise the rest of his words. ‘There is no way we’re leaving him in there like THAT,’ his finger jabbed further right this time, in the direction of the door, before returning to Ram again, ‘while you waltz off to the other end of the hotel, trying out some half-baked scheme that might not even work!’
‘Oh, and Jack’s idea was foolproof?’ Lex lunged at Ram, but Slade had anticipated this moment and swiftly moved in between the two, flinging his arms out so that they both got a chestful of fingers. Lex grunted and Ram rubbed his chest where it hurt, shooting an accusatory look at Slade. ‘Come on Slade, surely you can see that Jack’s as good as dead anyway?’ He staggered back into the door as he received the full-armed slap of Amber, who had risen unnoticed during the argument.
‘Nice shot, babe.’ Lex said, looking at Amber admiringly.
‘Oh, grow up Lex, or you’re next’ Amber snapped in reply, soon wiping the smile off Lex’s face. ‘I’ve had enough of this, Ram!’ she said, before turning to Slade, who had not yet answered Ram’s question. ‘Well?’ she asked angrily. ‘Do you agree with him? Do you think we should just leave him in there?’
‘I think we all need to calm down. Fighting with each other won’t get us anywhere. Of course I don’t think we should give up on Jack’ he added, noticing Amber’s open hand.
‘I’m surrounded by…’ Ram broke off as Amber’s arm twitched. ‘Can’t you see this could be our only chance?’ he cried.
‘We’re not leaving him!’ Lex stated firmly.
‘Then you’re all fools!’
‘Look Ram’ said Slade. ‘I know how much beating this thing means to you, but from what I’ve seen of it so far, I don’t think Jack would be enough of a distraction for you to do anything anyway. That laser didn’t stop when you and Josh were in there did it?’ Lex looked at Ram triumphantly. Ram just scowled at everybody.
‘Now can you three wait here a bit without killing each other? I’ve got a plan to get Jack out of there. Amazing what you can do when you give your mouth a rest and let your brain get some of the oxygen.’ And with that, he walked off.
‘Hey! Where are you going?’ Lex called, but got no reply. He stood there in silence with Ram and Amber, all three united in that they resented Slade’s last comment, but none of them willing to admit to any sort of common ground at that time. By the time Slade returned, wielding a metal stand that had once held an ashtray, the animosity in the room had mellowed, although there was still silence. The silence was broken when Slade hefted the stand like a javelin and rammed it as hard as he could into the glass panel in the door of the control room. This sent shards of broken glass flying out and Ram, who had been standing next to the door, fleeing to the other side of the corridor.
‘I don’t think this is a very good idea.’ Ram said as Slade shoved his arm through the newly-formed hole and attempted to reach the handle on the other side of the door.
‘We all know what you think about rescuing Jack, Ram. There’s no need to tell us again’ said Lex.
‘No, I mean…’
‘ARGH!’ Slade cried, jerking his arm out of the door and cutting his hand on the remnants of the window as he did so. ‘Stupid thing shocked me’ he said, shaking his arm out and flexing his fingers.
‘Here, let me have a look at that.’ Amber said to him, taking his hand and trying to extract the fragments of glass while dabbing away as much of the blood as she could with her handkerchief. ‘Don’t worry’ she said, smiling. ‘It’s clean.’ She shook her head at his winces. ‘And don’t be such a baby! There, that’s the best I can do for now. A dressing would help but I don’t have anything on me, sorry.’
‘That’s fine, thanks for this.’
‘No problem. So what just happened there?’ Slipping back into her mother hen role had given Amber back some of the strength she had lost during the day.
‘The lock is computerised, controlled by a keypad and swipe card system’ Ram explained. ‘So the programme has access to it.’
‘Which is why the door locked behind me and how Slade got the electric shock.’ finished Amber.
‘That’s correct. By the way, you never told us what made you leave the room.’
‘Monitors again’ was all Amber would say, while looking at the floor.
‘Don’t you have a swipe card?’ Lex asked Ram.
‘Yes, but the computer’s hardly going to let me in now, is it?’
‘It’s worth a try’ said Slade. Ram shrugged, dug out his card and slid it into the reader, punching in a code at the same time. Nothing happened.
‘I still say we try and get to the generator again’ he said.
‘And you’re still outvoted’ said Amber.
‘Then the only thing left is to break down the door’ said Lex, a touch of pleasure in his voice. Just then, there was a loud hissing noise and the four people standing in the corridor suddenly found themselves getting very wet. A look of recognition dawned on all of their faces, and it was as if a red alert had gone off in their heads. Jack had done it, the sprinklers were on. It was time for action.
‘Slade, go to the lab and make sure that equipment isn’t working.’ Slade nodded and left at Amber’s command. ‘Ram, I thought he was only turning on the one in the lab?’
‘It’s probably all he can do to get them on at all,’ Ram replied, sounding impressed. ‘It would take more concentration to specify which room to activate the sprinklers in, which would leave him open to attack from the programme. I doubt he’ll have much time though, so we need to be ready to get him out of there once Slade brings us the all clear.’
‘So you want to rescue him now, do you?’ snorted Lex, gaining him a reproachful look from Amber.
‘Now that we’re safe…hopefully, anyway…then yes.’ Ram said, in a tone that seemed to dare Lex to threaten him. As if to prove his point, he was the first to throw himself at the locked door between the three of them and Jack, with Lex close behind.
As Lex moved out of the way, Ram threw himself at the door once more, grunting as he hit it. Maybe he hadn’t shown enough faith in Jack at the beginning, but perhaps there was still a chance for him to redeem himself, by helping to rescue him. If he was going to find a home with the Mallrats he didn’t want to start with them all hating him; plus, it would be a shame if Jack died in there, he didn’t see any of the other Mallrats being great company for him. They were going to have to work fast, though. If the sprinklers caused the headset to short-circuit while Jack was wearing it…well, it wouldn’t be good that was for sure. They had been designed to repel a little water but soon it was going to be drenched. Hearing Jack’s groans from inside the room, he moved aside to let Lex have another go at trying to get through. Amber was alternately watching them and keeping a lookout for Slade. Lex fell upon the door with a thud and a creak of wood, before moving out of the way for Ram. Putting himself into position, he paused when the sprinklers in the corridor, and more than likely everywhere else as well, suddenly spluttered and died.
‘What’s happening Ram? Has he done it do you think?’ asked Amber, wringing out the hem of her coat.
‘It’s more likely that he’s lost control of the sprinkler system. He might be able to get it back but he won’t be getting any stronger. It’s only a matter of time before the programme gets the better of him. He’s only human, after all.’
‘Very optimistic, Ram.’
‘You did ask.’ He charged at the door again, banging his elbow in the process but otherwise having little effect. He and Lex continued to throw themselves at the door unsuccessfully, with the sprinklers occasionally coming back on for a few seconds, until finally a loud snap was heard. Lex, who had produced the breakthrough, stepped back for one final effort. Putting all of his weight behind him, he launched himself at the door, which came right off its hinges and fell flat on the floor inside the control room, taking Lex with it.
‘Slade’s back!’ cried Amber, pointing. Looking down the corridor, Ram saw that Slade was indeed on his way back, with his thumbs up, giving them the all clear. He noticed that Slade’s right hand was now bandaged; he had probably picked up something from the storeroom next to the lab. Seeing the signal that Jack had accomplished his task, Ram instinctively ran into the control room, past Lex who was just attempting to get back up. Some of the monitors were already flickering dangerously; he had to get Jack out of there now. Running towards the central table, in front of which Jack was sitting, he reached out and yanked off the headset the Mallrat was wearing. He had done it! He had proven himself.
Suddenly he felt a tingle in his fingers as he held the headset. Knowing what was about to come he simultaneously tried to let go and shout for help, but his mind was working much faster than his body and his reactions were not quick enough. A massive surge of electricity flowed through the headset and into him, causing him to drop it and at the same time emit a sort of gasping noise. The pain of the electric shock caused him to stumble backwards clumsily and he lost his footing on the now wet floor. As he fell, the back of his head collided so hard with the corner of a table that it rebounded with a loud crack. He finally came to rest with his back against the table leg, his own legs sprawled out in front of him and his head on his chest. Darkness enveloped him.
In the middle of standing up, Lex had missed the whole incident, but Amber had seen everything. It must have taken only a few moments, as Slade was still only halfway down the corridor. She rushed into the room, heading straight for Ram. At the same time, Lex finished staggering to his feet and went to check on Jack. She noticed a smear of blood on the corner of the table and noted that he must have hit his head with quite a force. Kneeling down beside him on the wet floor she saw more clearly the wound on the back of his head. Blood was matting his dark hair and dripping onto his black uniform. Carefully, she lifted his head up to try and rouse him, and gasped in shock at the wide, lifeless eyes that stared back at her.
‘He’s…he’s dead, Lex!’
The little strength she had managed to gather out in the corridor suddenly shattered like glass and she found herself desperately trying to fight back the unbidden tears.
‘Amber! AMBER!’ Lex called to her, trying to support Jack’s limp form on his shoulder. ‘There’s nothing you can do. Come and give me a hand with Jack.’
‘What happened?’ Slade asked as he came into the room. ‘I heard something.’ Amber watched him through her own shining eyes surveying the room before he rushed to help Lex with Jack. ‘Amber…we have to leave him for now. We need to come back later anyway, to get rid of the stuff in the lab. And for Josh.’ he said.
With a sigh, Amber ran her hand over Ram’s eyes, closing them, and stood up. She let Slade and Lex through the empty doorway first, each with one of Jack’s arms around their shoulders, before following them out, taking a last look back at the chaotic scene that was the control room.
It was soon after that the four figures made their way tentatively out of the old hotel, blinking as their eyes adjusted to the bright light of day they never thought they would see again, and that not all of them had. Even after all they had been through with Ram, Amber hated leaving him in there after what he had done for them in the end. She knew it wasn’t over though, as she walked down the steps into the street; Slade had been right. They would have to come back to dispose of the virus, only then would the city be safe. The end was in sight at least, and the city might finally have some peace.
Jay was within sight of the hotel when he finally saw them approaching. Slade and Lex were supporting someone, probably Jack judging by the jacket, between them. He wondered how he had been injured, and pretty badly by the look of things, inside the hotel. Had they been attacked? Amber was walking alongside them looking very upset, and he couldn’t see Ram or Mega anywhere. Slowing to a walk he waved at his friends and called out to Amber. Her head shot up to look in his direction and he was sure he had seen a look of pure terror on her face before it softened and she ran to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in his chest. Instinctively he spread his own arms protectively around her.
‘It’s alright’ he told her. ‘You did your best. Let’s just get out of here as quickly as possible, ok? The others are on a boat but it won’t wait forever.’
‘No Jay, we’re safe. The city’s safe. I’m just…being silly, that’s all.’
‘Did something happen in there?’ he asked her. ‘Where are Ram and Mega?’
‘They didn’t make it’ Slade said, looking at the floor. ‘But the rest of us are going to be fine.’ Jay caught Lex giving Slade a look that suggested that his statement was perhaps a tad optimistic.
‘Jay, there’ll be time to explain everything when we’re back at the mall. First you need to go and make sure that boat doesn’t leave. We’ll take Jack home.’
Amber immediately pulled away from him. ‘Slade’s right. There’s no time. We’ll meet you all back at the mall, ok?’
He nodded. ‘Be careful.’
‘You too. Oh, and if you see anybody, spread the word. The city’s safe.’
They moved apart until only their fingers were touching, then Jay turned and headed back the way he had come as fast as he could. He had so many questions buzzing in his head. What had happened to Mega, Ram and Jack? Why had Amber looked so afraid when she first saw him? He would have to wait a little longer for the answers, but at least she was safe. He only hoped that, tired as he was, he could get to the quayside in time to stop the others from leaving.