Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Know Circuit - Interlude - Part 8.0

Interlude Part 7.0

Balfour woke to sunlight streaming over his body from the hole in the ceiling. A moment's confusion left him unsure of where he was, but the steady hum of the cloud generator jarred his memory with a focused shot of dread. The pillar of light still stood, reaching up towards the morning clouds. As he studied the sky further, he noticed that the light was muted like a pair of weak sunglasses stood between him and the blue sky above. He sat up, noticing that Janicki lay unmoving next to him. Wong still hovered in the air despite being unconscious, his arms hanging limply at his sides. Balfour noted with a curious detachment that the flight equation didn’t require conscious maintenance. A groan from behind shook him from his musings.

“What was that?” Rolfsberg shouted from a heap on the floor. The Norseman pushed a robotic arm that had fallen over him aside and struggled shakily to his feet. “Hello, is anyone there?”

“Here,” Balfour answered while checking Janicki’s pulse. Alive. He shook the unconscious scientist awake.

“What… who? Shit, we’re alive.” Janicki seemed surprised by this fact as he stared up wide-eyed at Balfour. “Do we have power?”

A quick glance around the room confirmed that the generator was indeed working. “I’m a bit more concerned about what that flash was, but yes, it’s working. Better than we’d anticipated, apparently.”

“I told Wong that his math was off,” Rolfsberg hissed. Janicki threw Balfour a knowing glance and a wry smile.

“Still an asshole,” Janicki whispered under his breath.

Balfour’s connection to Lydia and Carl was still active. “Lydia? Carl? Are you two ok? Answer me.” He heard the pair stirring back to consciousness.

“What happened?” Lydia said sleepily.

“We’re still trying to determine that. Do you have power down there?”

“Yes. The generator worked?”

“Affirmative. Unfortunately, we’ve got a bit of a side effect here. And we’ve slept for… I’m not sure how long, it’s daylight outside.” He glanced over at the clock, but it had malfunctioned, its digital display cycling through its series of numbers at breakneck speed. He tried to connect to the GlobalNet to update his own internal HUD clock, but no connection was found. “Just get back here and we’ll figure out what happened.”

“I guess we wait for security to come and escort us off campus,” Janicki joked. Despite the humor, they all expected it. “I don’t think we make enough in a year combined to pay for that hole.” They sat in embarrassed silence waiting for the hammer to fall, each fidgeting with their own data from the generator’s operations. When Carl and Lydia finally burst through the double doors to the lab, Balfour jumped as if electrocuted. He sighed with relief to see his colleagues instead of a team of campus cops.

“You have to come see this,” Lydia shouted. “Come outside, quick!” She motioned at them with her hand then ran back out the doors, ignoring the hole in the ceiling completely. Balfour raised an eyebrow at Janicki and followed.

They ran down the hallway to the stairs, barely keeping up with Lydia as she retreated down to the ground floor. She blasted through a side door into the parking lot. Balfour stared around for a minute, seeing nothing out of place. The parking lot was mostly deserted despite the hour. He looked back up at the tower where his lab was located, scowling at the pillar of light poking out of the top. Then he noticed the dome, the polarizing effect of the energy field dulling the chill November sunlight. The temperature was a bit warmer and stuffier than he would have expected, perhaps a function of the dome’s translucence acting like the glass in a greenhouse. He followed the curvature of the dome across the horizon. It was enormous, possibly miles in diameter. No way could they hide their experiments with that overhead.

“The cloud appears to be visible,” he observed. “That was unexpected. Your calculations on the range were also incorrect, Rolfsberg.”

The Norseman started to protest but Lydia interrupted. “No, not the dome. Don’t you notice anything else? Anything missing?”

There was a silence in the air, a disconcerting stillness that distorted their voices with an eerie echo. Despite the proximity of the nearby buildings, he felt isolated on a clear open field, alone in a massive desert.

“No security. We ran into nobody on the way from the lab to here. No one in the parking lot. No early morning joggers. There's nobody here.”

“No,” Janicki objected. “It’s just early.”

“Do you ever remember it feeling this empty? This quiet? Even this early? And how early is it, anyway? My watch isn’t working at all, but it looks like class time to me. There should at least be the joggers or the security. Look at the street.” She pointed to a security truck sitting in the road. At first it appeared to be idling but on closer examination, the truck had drifted unattended to a rest on the cub. The cab was empty with the engine running. Balfour reached in and put it in park, then shut off the engine.

“She’s right. What kind of security guard leaves his truck running in gear? We need to scout out, see how far the dome extends and if there’s anyone else left here. Take a car if you need to.”

“I think we just made a city disappear.”

Go to Chapter 18.0

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