February 6, 2006

Crutch (2 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

The lights cut out.

Alison blurted out, “Daddy, I’m sorry! Did I do something wrong?”

Her father looked around the lab, gently illuminated by the LCD monitors. “It’s not a power outage,” he announced, slightly puzzled. “The lights and terminals are on the same loop.”

The computer running the experiment in front of Alison suddenly went black. “Daddy…”

“I see it, Ali, I see it.” Puzzlement was grudgingly giving way to concern.

A few seconds passed and then, in the centre of the monitor, four diminutive words appeared:


As Alison noticed other monitors near her go black, her father shouted out, “Shut down the network! Atlas is breaking out! Cut the jar loose! NOW!”

She could tell that all of the monitors in the room were gradually being extinguished, as a sinister wave of darkness began to spread out across the ceiling above her. In the background, there was a chorus of rapid footsteps accompanied by the sound of cables being wrenched from sockets by sweaty, frantic hands.

Her father grabbed a phone from beside her and punched in a number. “Eric? Atlas is live but it’s bleeding through the firewalls, you need to -”

His eyes darted left and right rapidly as someone spoke on the other end. Alison noticed that the cryptic message had started to infect the blackened monitors nearest her. It, too, was spreading out across the lab, like a slow but inexorable cancer.

Talking into the handset, her father said, “You see it on your screen too? Shut down all the power, absolutely everything, before it reaches -”

A strange look came over his face, a hybrid of confusion and fear that Alison found unfamiliar. His eyes glazed over and he released the handset. It clattered against the floor, dragging the rest of the phone with it; the phone smashed.

Someone was still speaking on the phone, repeating the same words over and over again; Alison could not make them out.

Shapes in the lab were barely perceptible now, every monitor overrun. Yvonne, who had been silent since the experiment had commenced, offered some optimism to Alison’s father, “Look, the jar is disconnected so -”

“It’s too late,” he interrupted. “Whatever it is… it’s out now.” Barely audible, Alison managed to hear him add, “Ice-nine.”

Out of ideas, everyone in the lab assembled around Alison’s computer and stared at the inscrutable text on her monitor, their feet crunching plastic shards of the shattered phone. No-one dared speak for fear of tempting reality into revealing the consequences of what had happened.

Reality needed no prompting. Everyone blinked at a sudden burst of light; a few actually flinched in shock. The fluorescents had flickered on again but they were joined by an ominous hum emanating from every piece of equipment in the room. Alison noticed straight away that the lights were actually getting brighter and brighter; the hum was hot in pursuit, volume rising.

She looked around to see all of her father’s staff motionless like robots waiting for instruction. The state of the lab was unchanged, every monitor still bearing the same, mysterious graffiti and all of the connections in the room had been severed. They had done everything they could.

Just a few minutes later, their moment to act came. The quiet hum had transformed into a deafening roar and the fluorescents were now a blazing sun. Some of the staff, pushed over the edge by this relentless attack on the senses, ran desperately for the door thinking it might provide escape. One man started to smash the monitors and workstations, shouting incoherently. The rest simply covered their ears and shut their eyes tightly, praying for the cacophony to stop.

The violence of the sensory assault overpowering her, a blinded Alison screamed, “Daddy! What did I do wrong?”

Warm, protective arms encircled her and, just for a moment, the fear was gone.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1527

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