Kick the Bucket

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Chapter Eleven

Building Three

Fourth Floor Conference Room

Audio log: 1993.10.7 / 1925 through 1930 hours

Excerpt duration: 5 minutes

Eyes only.

Duplication or removal of this transcription from archive strictly prohibited.

Participants:

[1] Colonel James P. Forrest …............................. ARMY

[2] Lieutenant Oscar Lopez ….............................. ARMY

Colonel James P. Forrest: Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! IT’S TOYING WITH US!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Did you really think that’d work, Colonel?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Not a chance, but I had to try anyway.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: What now?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Lock down that elevator. Get Patterson and Samuel back here. We’re going to need to brainstorm another plan to capture the DE before the fly-boy up there gets an itchy trigger finger. It took four hours, and fifteen mice, but Doc Kelly’s team finally managed to lure the last DE turning the Maze into Swiss cheese into the portable vault.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I wasn’t here for that. Which one was it?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Look at the monitor. That’s it before it turned into Farmer Green Jeans.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: The whole vault level is practically hollow; not much more than a few spare office spaces and dozens of fake doors. It’ll wind up in the vault room no matter which direction it takes.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Let’s hope so. Maybe it’ll tire itself out and go home. Before you ask, that’s a joke, Lopez.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Understood, sir.

Colonel James P. Forrest: How’s that mouse doing?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s alive. Infra-red cameras are still picking up a hot spot. Thermal cameras register nothing coming from the DE, of course.

Colonel James P. Forrest: A normal DE is a ten plus one on the danger meter. At least this one isn’t a raving Chaotic, too.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Do you think we can communicate with it, Colonel?

Colonel James P. Forrest: Go right ahead. The door is open. Knock yourself out.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Ah ... not what I meant, sir.

Colonel James P. Forrest: I know what you meant, but think about this. We just expended enough firepower to take out a good portion of Heinz Field and the Pittsburgh Steelers. This DE is plainly conscious to some degree. Even if it can vaguely understand our sincere ... We’re sorry! ... Do you expect it to believe anything we say?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: How about a trust exercise?

Colonel James P. Forrest: If this is another pile of new-age crappola, I’ll feed you to it myself.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Nothing like that.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Fine. Go ahead. It better be freakin’ good, or I’m dipping you in barbecue sauce.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: It’s like this, sir


Moving even slower to not awaken his passenger, Becker keeps marching forward until he’s gone down a total of three nearly-identical corridors. Upon reaching a blank wall, he turns towards a white door. He recognizes it easily, and sighs silently without the slightest whisper of breath escaping his lips, ‘This again?’

It couldn’t be anything but the door on the opposite side of the room he’d been shot at.

Bright white and heavy-duty industrial looking, its a complete and total mess. Even if none of the demonic shotgun blasts could penetrate from the other side, at some point it’d been hit with several dozen deer slugs big enough to create a nearly artistic display. Becker can’t resist thinking, ‘It’s gonna take someone hours with a four-pound sledge to hammer all those bumps flush!’

And, just in front of the partially ajar door, there’s a small stack of well-worn books.

Placing the sleeping mouse gently on the floor, Becker drops to both knees and lifts each book in turn. It takes far longer than it should, but he eventually puzzles out the distorted titles: Bobby’s fun day at the zoo. Little Martha goes to Granny’s farm. English grammar for young readers. A Picture Dictionary for Fifth Graders. The History of Mammals on Earth for young boys and girls. Human civilization in pictures and large text for third grade students. Ruby asks her parents for a pony.

Memories flood his consciousness. Good memories. Cherished memories of books just like these.

Lacking the money after a run of bad luck almost ended his young marriage and farm, he’d hitchhike back and forth to several nearby town libraries borrowing books for Linda and Susan. Libraries he visited years later for the last time, in better times, to deliver sincere thanks in person along with a donation to charity in each library’s name.

Putting down the last book, he’s surprised when his grip doesn’t loosen.

< [Data processing corrupted / Linking to running database memory emulation / engage]>

With no control whatsoever, his hands opens ... Human civilization in pictures and large text for third grade students ... and his consciousness fades to black. Seconds? Minutes? Hours? later his eyes refocus upon a wide-awake little mouse grooming its ears and muzzle atop the neatly restocked pile of books.

< [Data storage corrupted / Relinquishing control to database memory emulation / engage] >

Every word, every image in those books, is engraved in his memory down to the smallest detail. He could recite every word, and explain every concept described in any of them.

Becker is terrified. He can’t remember turning a single page, or even standing up.

The mouse doesn’t care. It, a he actually, has finished grooming and has begun to eat a grape. Dripping juice upon the cover of ... Little Martha goes to Granny’s farm ... he single-mindedly tears the fruit apart with sharp incisors displaying both total contentment, and a carefree lack of concern about his surroundings.

‘He’s still young,’ Becker thinks to himself, ‘if he survives his first encounter with a cat he’ll learn.’

Not knowing what he might find, he leaves the mouse safely behind and crosses the threshold into the next room.


Building Three

Fourth Floor

Conference Room 2 / Vault Four Control Room

Audio log: 1993.10.7 / 2015 through 2022 hours

Excerpt duration: 7 minutes

Eyes only.

Duplication or removal of this transcription from archive strictly prohibited.

Participants:

[1] Colonel James P. Forrest …...................... ARMY

[2] Lieutenant Oscar Lopez …....................... ARMY

Colonel James P. Forrest: I can’t believe you’re that dumb! How did you even graduate OCS*, and who did I piss off so much they’d send you to me!? Dropping off those books to prove a point was the most moronic stunt I’ve seen in years, but did you really have to double-down on idiocy by going back to give that mouse a grape!?

*Transcribers note: OCS, officer candidate school

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I didn’t want it wandering off, sir. You saw it, there was no real danger. He practically went into a coma going through those books page by page.

Colonel James P. Forrest: I TOLD YOU ALREADY!! STOP CALLING IT A ... HE!! THAT’S A FUCKING ORDER!! ANTHROPOMORPHIZING THESE THINGS WILL GET US ALL KILLED!!

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Sorry, sir. But you must admit this DE is operating on a completely different level than all the others. The old rules no longer apply. Turning a mouse into a pet is definitely not normal, nor is assuming human camouflage. I suggest we keep a hands-off approach going, and see what happens when it wanders back into the vault room.

Colonel James P. Forrest: And if it starts melting through the other vaults?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: We try something else, or wait for the Pentagon to unlock the self-destruct key.

Colonel James P. Forrest: You do know what happens after I turn it on, right?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Yes, sir. Shaped charges implode Building Three and everything, including us, drops into the sub-sub basement. And the DE’s become someone else’s problem.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Just checking. Now that we’re clear on that tiny detail, what’s next?

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: Research, Colonel. I believe the human image the DE is mimicking isn’t some manner of composite; that there either is, or was, a real live human who looked like that. With your permission, I’d like Lieutenant Donnell to break comm. protocols. Maybe he can get a match on the internet using our case files.

Colonel James P. Forrest: That’s way above my pay grade. I’ll get back to you when I return from my office. Just keep everyone away from it, and don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.

Lieutenant Oscar Lopez: I’ll do my best, sir.

Colonel James P. Forrest: Try harder than that.


The room hasn’t changed much since Becker first saw it.

Except for a number of small punctures, the insulation blanketing a few of the hanging vaults is is still intact. The only significant damage is located where he once stood on the catwalk. The lights are just as bright, and fill the room with the same low volume hum of high-voltage electricity at work. And, steady streams of cooled air enter from vents high above to remove any trace left of gunpowder smoke.

Knowing full well what’s beyond the other sliding door, he takes a closer look at the hanging metal boxes; particularly the one within which he’d awaken. After thirty or forty steps down the hanging catwalk, he turns to his left and stands once more before a small bank-vault like door with the number four painted upon it.

From this side it’s vastly different from what he’d seen from inside, and he exclaims his honest assessment of this opinion silently within the confines of his mind, ‘A devil that really really really likes buttons designed this thing!’

There’s nothing like the minimalist simplicity of a elevator call-button on this side.

For someone who’s only experience with a computer is a single PONG video game against each of his two daughters ... he lost both times ... Becker’s dismay is completely understandable. Literally a score or more buttons cover a metal panel to one side of the door-frame; with about as many dials and flickering neon-green numbers on the other.

Feeling inexplicably hesitant to let his curiosity possibly damage his former prison, Becker decides to try another. Crossing the catwalk’s width, he walks up to an identical metal door and reaches out to touch it...

< [Contact / multiple link requests received / decoding / engage]>

... and is crushed under the weight of screeching voices expressing various versions of nearly identical incoherent demands.

<[ syst*m failur* / com*and datab*se corrup*ed / uplo*ding linked *atabase / enga*e]>

Feeling their confusion tearing at the integrity of his reason and memories, he screams in silent agony begging for help or death. He doesn’t care which, ‘PLEASE STOP!! I CAN’T STAND THIS!!’

In a neutral tone as calm and impersonal as ever, a voice he knows well answers.

< [Links severed / permanent faults detected / terminating conflicting sources] >

< [Recompiling simulacra database / erasure of original in progress / engage] >

Becker stands utterly motionless with his hand still touching vault six.

Every thought, every emotion, sight, sound, sensation he’d ever experienced in life, returns in an endless flood to wash away any those that’d been irreparably damaged. His cognitive disarray mounting to the point of insanity, his awareness of self is drowned beneath a tide of total blackness.

Dead once more, he hears nothing as alarms blare in every room within Building Three.

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