It was an ordinary day, other than the explosion. I ground through the paperwork, filling office supplies and costs into each line. I entered manufacturer information and item numbers. I checked little boxes. It was a commercial supplier. It was under contract. It was a green purchase. I submitted the paperwork to our financial officer, I got it back. I submitted it our authorizing official, I got it back. Finally, I logged into a website and bought six hundred boxes of paper clips.
Then the bomb went off.
I didn’t know what was going on, only that the entire building shook with the force of it. Emergency lighting came on, and an evacuation alarm started ringing, with a calm, recorded voice in the background advising us to proceed calmly and quickly to the nearest stairwell. Then the power died. That wasn’t supposed to happen, the building had backup generators. Either way, it was time to go.
Not to the exit stairwell. I’d hidden in this company for six months waiting for a chance like this. Six months of ordering fricking paper clips and fetching their damn coffee. I went to the ‘restricted access’ hallway and looked around. It looked like everybody had left that wing, and everybody was crowded at the stairwell, turned away from me.
I moved into the hall and pushed on the unpowered door. It swung open at a touch, the electronic door locks quiet and dark. Down the corridor, and the computer room would be to the left. I couldn’t boot the computers up to look for what I needed, but this is where they kept the backup storage. I walked down a bank of hard drives, reading the labels, and found the one I wanted.
Project Kafka. Uncounted dollars, efforts, even lives had gone into keeping this a secret, and here was the mother lode. I didn’t know what they were doing, but I would soon – and so would the entire world. I pulled the hard drive out of the rack and tucked it into my jacket pocket. Then I heard a sound that made my blood run cold.
A fan had started running, to keep the room cool. Lights began to show on the servers as power returned. I turned and ran for the doors. The electronic locks were still booting up, the lights flashing green and yellow, and they opened with a push as I ran out into the hall, running for the main doors. The lights on the lock turned solid red just as I reached them.
Expecting them to open, I slammed into the steel doors and rebounded, sprawling on the floor. There was searing pain from my nose and wetness on my face. I wiped the blood off my face, then wiped my hand on my shirt, leaving a red smear. Staggering up, I looked up and down the hall. Solid reds shone on every card reader except one – the lights flickered, then went dark, flickered, and went dark. Some flaw was keeping that lock from rebooting properly.
I heard voices coming up the hall. I’d have to take my chances. I ran through the doors, only to stop dead on the other side. Before me was a glass case marked “Kafka,” containing a single vial of clear fluid.
It couldn’t be safe. With a name like that ‘Kafka,’ it had to be some sort of twisted horror, the kind of thing nightmares are born of. But could I really leave it here, if it was as harmful as my investigations suggested it might be? I opened the case, took the vial, and put it carefully in my jacket pocket. Then I took a fresh vial and filled it with tap water, replacing it in the case.
I lifted my hands, and turned, my blood turning to ice as I saw their weapons. Submachine guns, compact and ugly. Not the pistols of a security guard, or even the rifles of law enforcement.
“Hey guys, the alarms were going off, and I panicked . . . the doors locked me in when the power came back. If you can tell me where–”
I felt an impact, no more than a punch, then wetness in my chest and from my back. They shot me! They just fricking shot me! Then the pain came, and somehow I was on my knees, without remembering when I had slumped
“Yes, sir. Sweep complete. Breach neutralized.” I touched my chest, then looked at my hand, covered with blood and glass. Glass. The vial. They had shot me right through the vial I had stolen, driving the contents into my body with a bullet. I fell onto my side, weakness overtaking me.
I supposed I should be grateful that I was dying. Whatever nightmare they were cooking up in here, I could already feel it. A sensation of burning and freezing both spread through my veins from where I’d been shot. I didn’t know what I would suffer if I lived, but I wanted to live, damn it.
I struggled, trying to rise, trembling and weak as my blood pooled around me. The guards stood by casually, waiting for me to bleed out. The cold fire spread through my veins, and slowly the world began to darken. All for nothing . . . it can’t all be for nothing!
(Editorial note – I recognize that this story doesn’t really have an ending – the prompt was to write a beginning, so I apologize if this is a little unsatisfying.)