The year was 2036, and I was a college sophomore. I was getting by, living on my own in Washington, DC. My friends called me Casey Dagher. That life was cut short when I was stabbed to death in an alleyway days before summer.
Somehow, I woke up in a strange place and discovered I had gained new abilities; superhuman strength, incredible precision, and a mechanical humanoid body to survive in.
Reborn with power, a secret government program gave me a second chance at life. I’m now known as special agent Jaklyn Lionheart, working on stopping others with robotic powers like mine from hurting innocent people. This is my story.
I smelled freshly mowed grass. My mind was racing faster than I was, but I focused on the track.
The sun was peeking over the horizon as I reached the halfway point of the lap. The air was invigorating, and the quiet morning hours were refreshing. I was settled into a comfortable pace, finally able to clear my head. Finally.
“What do you think? Am I doing okay?” I asked the training supervisor as I stopped next to him, jogging in place.
“You’re doin’ great!” he said, looking slightly confused.
“Should I do another lap?”
“Uhh, if ya think ya want to.”
I looked at the other trainees. They were all red-faced and panting heavily, their muscles trembling with exhaustion. “What’s up with them? They all look so tired,” I thought. They were all in excellent shape, with this exercise being a regular part of their job. But I didn’t feel tired at all! I felt a bit embarrassed, realizing I must have been running for laps without noticing everyone else was too tired to continue. I felt my face getting hot.
“You oughta get back out there soon, agent,” the supervisor said, “I’m sure these guys are gonna wanna pack up any minute now.”
One of the other trainees, Douglas, came jogging up to us. “Hey,” he panted, “I’ll do another lap with you.”
The supervisor’s eyes widened.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve got the energy,” Douglas replied.
And with that, the two of us took off down the track.
“We don’t usually get new people here. Is this your first day?” Douglas asked after our initial sprint.
“Yeah. I guess it’s…”
I didn’t know what else to say, not trusting myself to speak. I was still embarrassed about out-running everyone else. Douglas was an excellent athlete, but I must have been going way too fast.
“Don’t worry about it,” Douglas said. “I’m sure you’ll get the hang of things soon. This is your first day as an agent. It’s a big thing!”
“My name’s Douglas, by the way. I’d shake your hand, but…”
We rounded the first quarter of the lap circle, making a slight left.
“I’m glad to meet you too,” I said, smiling, “I’m Jaklyn.”
Standing around six feet tall, his hair was well kept, cut short enough that it likely required no attention to manage. Douglas’ face appeared tailor-made to be as expressive as possible. With a goatee circling his mouth, even a slight change in his expression was magnified immensely.
“What’s your branch?” he asked.
“That must be exciting!”
“How about you?” I asked
“White House!” My eyes widened in surprise. He seemed to notice. “Never met the president, but I’ve seen him from a distance. It’s really inspiring to work for him.”
“I’m glad we got to start the day on the track. It’s a lot less noisy out here.”
“Yeah, people can get pretty talkative up there, or just really invested in their work,” said Douglas, “When I use the office, my desk is near Aiden’s from record-keeping. It gets hard to focus with him beating his keyboard like it owes him money when he types.”
“I know what you mean. I’m pretty sure I heard him… From the other side of the office.”
“Yeah, he’s a weird one.”
“He doesn’t really know how to interact with people,” he continued, “and he always mutters to himself. I just choose to keep my distance.”
“He hasn’t actually done anything though, has he?”
“Not that I know of. Maybe I’m a bit too judgemental, but I don’t think he and I would get along.”
“It’s a little hard for me to imagine that you wouldn’t get along with anybody,” I said.
A smile appeared on Douglas’ face as he let out a small laugh.
“You sound like my little brother. I’m pretty sure he’s said the same exact thing to me. You’re kind of like him.”
“Yeah. You both talk the same. I don’t know…”
“No, I get it. I’ve got a younger brother too,” I said without thinking.
“Oh, how old is he?”
“Uhm, thirteen this year,” I hesitated, “How old is yours?”
I regretted saying that. It was a bad idea to talk about my life before the secret service, even with another agent. I had to be more careful.
“He’s seventeen,” said Douglas, “And his birthday isn’t for another couple of months. Our mom has been sick for the past while, so I’m hoping she’ll be able to recover by then.”
Getting to the halfway point of the lap, we began to circle back toward the rest of the group.
“Oh, that’s terrible! How is she doing?”
“She could be better. It’s been hard for her to stand lately. The doctor said she has something called Gillian-Barre Syndrome. She got it after a bad case of the flu.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope she can get better soon!”
“Yeah!” Douglas said, putting on an optimistic smile, “She will, one day. We just need to get there! Y’know, before Mom and I moved up here we used to live in Alexandria, Virginia. My Dad was a Pastor at a Church near our home. It was this tall, all-white building. Back then, I was so young, I thought that was the White House.”
“And I bet you figured your Dad was the President.”
“Yeah,” said Douglas with a noticeable drop of enthusiasm in his voice, “He was… He was a good man.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sure he’d be proud to see where you and Carl are now.”
“Me too. Carl would have liked to meet him, but Mom met his father after Dad passed away. Sometimes, though, I don’t even notice. My Dad had a righteous soul, and I see that same spirit in Carl. I know he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Douglas then pointed out his friend Brett at the end of the lap, standing beside a tall bush with roses and sunflower dots.
“Hey, Brett!” called Douglas as we ran towards him.
Brett was a towering man, his muscle and height like a racehorse. He looked a few years older than Douglas. He had a prominent black mustache, a slicked-back undercut, blue eyes, and a rather sharp face.
“Hey, Doug,” Brett called back, “New blood, huh?”
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Brett. A good friend of mine. Knew him before we joined the Secret Service.”
Coming to the end of the course, we began to slow down.
“Really? How did you two meet?”
“Hey, Doug!” called Brett, waving Douglas over.
Douglas ran over to Brett, a smile on his face, leaving me standing there alone.
“What’s up?” I heard Douglas ask faintly as he stopped next to Brett.
“Check this out,” Brett said as I moved closer. He gestured towards a sizable, heavy-looking drone.
Douglas laughed. “That thing is huge!”
As Brett continued to speak, more and more trainees began to approach. His voice was almost inaudible to me. His body, however, was very animated, as if he were telling the climax of an epic. Some onlookers whispered while others quietly listened, but they were all getting closer. Brett became more and more animated as he spoke, and Douglas stood next to him, nodding and smiling.
“This is the Fountainhead drone, the new standard for direct military combat engagement.”
Douglas looked impressed. I squeezed my way into the group of onlookers, trying to get a closer look.
“It’s incredible,” he said.
“I know, right?” said Brett with a smile. “The guy who designed it was a total genius. He was a lifelong engineer. He was even working with Tyler and the secret service towards the end of his life.”
”Ha! Good investment,” the training supervisor excitedly shouted as he leaned in to inspect it, “This one’s a real mean bitch. I used to work with drones like these, but I’ve never seen one that sprays poison! When you see this one coming, your only options are to flee or die.”
“Couldn’t you just shoot it down?” Douglas asked as I got close enough for a full view of Fountainhead.
“You’ve heard of the USS Constitution, right?” Brett asked, “It was a warship the United States used in the war of 1812 against Britain. It was only made of wood, but when it was bombarded with cannonballs, they would literally bounce off the ship! It never sank. This drone was created with that same type of structure in mind. See that sleek white exterior? If you’re a soldier fighting this thing, you’re not shooting through that. At least, not before…”
As Brett started to laugh, the amusement spread through the audience like wildfire.
The noon sun’s reflection beamed off of Fountainhead’s exterior. It was shiny and plastic, about half the size of a car, with four rotors on each side. It was big enough for a person to sit on top of, though it did not appear strong enough to fly with such weight. Although Fountainhead was made with relatively common materials used in drones, the unique curvature of the exterior made it bullet-resistant.
“So, what, you can’t take this thing out at all?” Douglas asked, “I mean, isn’t there a weak spot, like the rotors? It can’t be that perfect.”
“There is one weak spot,” said Brett, pointing directly down into the tube. “But it’s right on top of the drone. The thing moves so fast and flies so high up that you’d never be able to hit it until it was too late.”
“How fast does it go?” a soft-spoken trainee jumped in, taking half a step toward Brett as he asked.
“Uhhhh… In short bursts, upwards of eighty miles an hour. But it can sustain a speed of about fifteen.”
“Well, yeah. Once you’ve found your target, fifteen’s probably all ya need.” said the training supervisor.
“So how does it work?” asked one of the only other female trainees, “I don’t see any weapons on it. How is it useful?”
“Well, the opening at the top shoots out a poison gas like a whale’s blowhole, which rains down on the area below it. Anyone caught in that zone is done for. And a soldier of ours doesn’t even need to by in the same country to operate it.”
The audience erupted into muttering and even a few cheers. Everyone was impressed with the power of the Fountainhead, and no one could deny its usefulness.
“I’ll take two,” said one trainee.
“I can’t wait to see it in action,” I heard another.
“Why dontchya give it a whirl?” the training supervisor called out.
Everyone went silent.
“You sure that’s a good idea, sir? Here?” Douglas asked, looking a bit concerned.
“Yeah!” The supervisor said, pointing to a nearby building. “Should be able to fly to the top of our new Kattepote building and back, huh? What do you guys think?”
The trainees erupted. The verdict was already in.
“Alright then,” said Brett with a smile.
He walked to the computer set up near the drone and began clicking his keyboard. What he was typing was a mystery to me, as the screen displayed random text characters, which I assumed were code. Seconds later, the drone began humming to life.
“All right, everyone,” Brett said, “Here she goes!”
He pressed a key, and the drone slowly lifted off the ground, a gust of wind and dirt blowing through the crowd as it shot up and disappeared from view. I covered my face. The unfamiliar shape of my hands against my face snapped me out of the moment.
“Wow,” I whispered as I moved closer to Douglas.
Collecting myself, I turned to him.
“I know, right?” said Brett with a smile.
I joined the crowd, whose collective gaze raced, trying to catch a glimpse of the drone. Between the sun and the reflective outside of the Kattepote building, it was difficult to open my squinting eyes enough to see much of anything.
“There it is!”
“Yeah! Woah! It’s so fast!”
My eyes darted around the sky, trying to see what they did. I felt someone tap my shoulder. Turning my head, I met Douglas, who pointed to a particular place in the sky. I turned my gaze there.
Fountainhead was nearing the top of the building when I saw it. It must have just slowed down after moving at top speed. Without breaking course, the drone made a 360° spin. Brett beamed as even more cheers and excitement radiated from his audience.
The drone began turning back around towards us. As the moments passed, the distant drone grew larger. Douglas looked a bit relieved.
The supervisor slapped Brett on the back.
“Hah-hah! I think you just made my day, buddy!”
“I’m glad he’s enjoying himself,” Douglas said with a smile. “He’s been working hard for this project to get fully funded.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah. Brett over there is the youngest general in the United States Army.”
“That was intense,” I said, still in awe of the drone flying toward us.
“Wow, look at that,” said someone from the crowd, “It’s able to tilt itself from side to side in mid-air. That’s impressive!”
“That’s really something, huh? Didn’t think I’d live to see something like this.”
Now directly in the sun’s beam, Fountainhead resembled a floating lightbulb.
“Hey. Hey, Brett!” The supervisor turned to him. “Why don’t ya input the flight stabilization command, huh? I can see it rocking.”
“I already did,” said Brett, leaning his face towards the monitor, “Maybe this will work.” He quickly typed another command into the computer.
I wondered why the drone was having trouble. It wasn’t windy outside at all. The drone’s path started to curve slightly, away from the landing area near Brett and towards myself and the onlookers.
I watched Douglas’ eyes dart between Brett and the drone several times.
“Everything going okay, Brett?” he asked after several moments.
“Yeah. Want me to take over? That thing is expensive!” said the supervisor.
“He’s… gonna be able to land that thing, right?” I asked.
“Of course!” said Douglas.
Fountainhead’s curve was becoming more apparent by the second. Now off its original course by about 13°, it started to accelerate by about 10 miles a second, its course headed right into the audience. A few began to disperse from the crowd, and a few seconds later, most others joined them. As I followed, another trainee ran into me, and I fell to the ground, the drone coming within 5 feet of the ground. Several trainees ducked to avoid it. I raised my head to see the drone fly back into the air, making a sharp 54° turn up into the sky, inching towards Brett.
“Brett! What’s happening?” the supervisor shouted.
Brett held his hands up, not touching the keyboard.
“It’s not me!” he shouted back.
I felt a hand on my arm.
“You alright, Jaklyn?” Douglas asked, helping me up.
“Yes,” I gasped, “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. Let’s get a little farther from here.”
The supervisor ran up to the computer. Brett quickly stepped aside from the controls.
Douglas and I slowed down to catch our breath.
“I’m sorry about that,” Douglas said, “Brett’s a good guy. I think he just got a little ahead of himself.”
“It’s okay,” I panted, “I’m just glad everyone’s alright.”
“Yeah. Me too.” Douglas looked back at the crowd. “Brett!” he called.
I could feel my heart beating out of my chest much harder than when I had run all those laps earlier. Catching my breath, I looked up to see Fountainhead hovering nearby.
“Brett! Brett!” Douglas persisted.
“One second!” Brett shouted back, immediately turning his attention back to the computer.
“Damn, I thought this was a bad idea. Where did that thing go?”
Douglas looked around the cloudless sky, using his hand for shade.
“Right there, 49 feet up.”
“49?” Douglas looked where I pointed, “You can tell how high it is?”
“Yeah. Well, it’s 32 feet now.”
Maybe it was from shock, but only then did I realize I could tell precisely how high up Fountainhead was. In fact, once I had focused on it, I could keep track of its exact location. This wasn’t normal. I could accurately determine its distance and speed down to the measurement. Watching it move across the sky, I saw Fountainhead dip towards the ground with a 14.93° change in its course while flying aimlessly at about 15 MPH directly towards Brett and the supervisor. Douglas looked agitated. The mustache on his tense face resembled the shape of the letter “M.”
“Are they so wrapped up in disarming that thing that they don’t see it’s right above them?” Douglas whispered.
If they didn’t get out of the way, Fountainhead could fly right into them with another uncontrolled dive. They would be lucky to survive.
“Should we do something?” I asked. I started to relax, taking a deep breath through my nose. The air smelled strange, as though I were at a salty beach.
“D-Do you see that, Ja-J.. Uhm.”
“Y-Yeah. At the top of the drone.”
“No, I do-Oh!”
As it rose in front of the sun, I noticed a white gas rising from the hold on top of the drone, like steam.
“What are they doing?” Douglas said through gritted teeth.
“Is it armed?” I asked, my eyes darting between Douglas and Fountainhead.
“N- I… It can’t be! There’s no way that drone would be armed on U.S. soil!”
I started to dismiss it initially, but the mist rising from the head of the drone was undeniably growing thicker by the moment.
“It could be overheating,” said Douglas, “You know, the internal circuits frying.”
“What was that?” I asked.
Littered around the ground were splatters of black goo. The gas coming from Fountainhead was too thick to see through at all now, taking on a grey color. A black goo dripped out of the hole, leaving smears on the white exterior as it rolled off of the drone and fell to the ground. The increasing chaos around Brett and the supervisor only seemed to isolate them from everything outside of the computer.
The air felt colder, giving my face chills. Dead leaves fell from above and slid across the ground.
“Hey… Douglas…” I said slowly.
Our thoughts were identical. I felt my legs start to move, almost on their own, as my breath started getting caught in my throat.
It would be ironic, having been saved from the brink of death only to die from something like this.
“This doesn’t make sense. I’ve never seen any command lines like this!” said the supervisor.
“That’s what I’m saying!” said Brett, “I didn’t put them in! I-“
The goo hit the back of the supervisor’s head, quickly sliding down his shoulders.
Brett slowly turned his head to the ground behind him. The color drained from his face as he saw the black substance. The supervisor did not move at all, not even turning his eyes. He clenched his jaw so hard his teeth looked like they might shatter from the force.
Fountainhead screeched an alarm, which blared for several seconds. A blinking red light accompanied.
Douglas’s skin started to look pink as we neared the computer. I could even feel my mechanical legs starting to get worn out!
Brett and the supervisor slowly looked above them.
The gas from Fountainhead was raining down, moments away from reaching them.
“N-NO!” The supervisor’s knees lost their strength. He fell on his hands, hesitantly looking up again.
“How do you restart this computer?” Brett scratched his head.
I dove towards Brett.
We collided. Even though he was much larger than me, the mechanical energy of my body helped to push him a few feet away from the computer. I realized Douglas was no longer beside me.
I turned around. Douglas was struggling to drag the supervisor by the collar. The gas began to settle on the supervisor’s shoes.
The supervisor squealed and began kicking and moving, causing Douglas, who was already squatting, to tip over, getting his feet stuck under himself. I waited for him to pick himself back up, but he wasn’t able to.
I jolted, realizing he wouldn’t be able to get clear of the gas by himself. On the ground myself. I extended my arm towards him. He grabbed it.
“Brett!” Douglas called for assistance.
Sitting on the ground, I Ieaned back and pulled. Douglas pushed his foot against the ground, unable to move the two along very fast. I wasn’t speeding them up much, either. Brett began to get up from the ground.
uuAHA aaAAAHAa AAAH
The supervisor’s squirming didn’t stop. The gas was spreading out against the ground in all directions, inches away from Douglas and the supervisor’s faces. Pulling with full strength, my face tensed up. My eyes closed and my teeth gritted. I could hear Brett nearing, but if he were a second or two slow, it would be too late.
In a last effort to save the two, I bent my elbow to pull them closer. They slid across the ground smoothly. In disbelief, I opened my eyes and turned to them. With one arm, I had managed to pull Douglas and the supervisor right up me in just a second. Thankfully, we looked to have just made it out of the striking zone.
“Wow. Y-You’re strong,” Douglas said.
The siren caught us off guard. The flashing red light painted the white smoke and reflected off of our faces.
The smoke occupied a large area. It formed the shape of an upside-down mushroom.
“Oh no! Ah God!” the supervisor moaned, “I was in that!” The supervisor sat up. “I was in that gas over there! It touched me. Ah, God! What’s it gonna do ta me?”
“Relax!” Brett assured, “You only-”
“You only touched it for a second or two, and you didn’t inhale it! You’ll be-”
“Okay, but… But what about that black stuff? It fell right onta me, didn’t ya see?”
“Wait, that didn’t come from the drone,” Brett said.
“It did?” Douglas asked.
“I saw it falling out of the head,” I insisted, “Are you saying you don’t know what it is?
“L-Look, there shouldn’t have been any ammunition on that thing at all! But e-even when it is armed, it isn’t supposed to shoot out any, black goop, or whatever.”
“Whatever that stuff was, it looks like it was harmless.” said Douglas, inspecting the area of the supervisor’s back where the substance had struck.
The faint sound of squirting began emitting from within the gas, like the sound of juices shooting out of an orange being sliced, only loud enough to produce an echo.
“What is that?” the sweating supervisor panted.
Fountainhead’s alarm had gone silent. The mist began to clear.
The grass was soaked in red. A thick red fluid flooded the area. As the gas disappeared sufficiently for us to be able to see the computer that controlled Fountainhead, the inexplicable twitching bush beside it drew our attention.
Though the wind was faint, the leaves shook as though a storm blew through them.
“B-Brett, what did it do to those bushes?”
The bush’s leaves creaked as they swelled, turning from green to pale brown as their thickness grew by the inch. The leaves became bright red as they swelled to the size of grapes, finally reached their bursting point.
The dripping leaves hung from their blackened, withering branches like deflated sacks, soaking the grass even more.
“You okay, champ?” Douglas asked, putting his hand on the supervisor’s shoulder. Though visibly distressed, the supervisor mostly looked glad he did not bear a resemblance to the bush.
As though of their own accord, my eyes began scanning the ground for injured.
“Oh god. Oh shit.” Brett shifted his weight back and fourth, massaging his stomach as though to undo a knot.
“Thanks, Doug. I’m okay. Thanks,” the supervisor assured as Douglas helped him to his feet.
“Gale!” someone called out, “What are you doing getting so close to that stuff? It barely missed you!
My head turned to the source of the voice. About twenty feet away, another trainee laid flat on his back. I ran over.
“Hey, are you alright?” I asked, kneeling beside him.
His eyes looked unbothered by the peaked sunlight, opening them and blinking as he came to his senses.
He took a deep breath. “I’m fine.”
“Are… Are you sure?” I asked as he stood up, bizarrely unphased.
“Yeah, I’m fine!” he said in a more upbeat tone.”
“Brett, what’s going on?” I heard Douglas demand, turning my attention, “That drone almost killed us!”
“I’m telling you that I don’t know! Whether Fountainhead had ammunition on board or not, the only thing I activated was the flight.”
“Are you saying that the drone did that by itself?”
“Well… I… Yes, I am!”
“Where is the drone now?” I called to them.
Douglas and Brett looked to the sky. Their eyes widened.
The ground shook. Everyone turned to look to the same spot at the same time. An umbrella-shaped object with a sharpened stem had fallen from Fountainhead. It was metal and reflective, with a large dome at its top.
“We need to get out of here!” Brett called.
“WHAT?” Douglas’ voice grew louder than Brett’s.
“We need to get out of here, now! That thing is about to burst?”
“Yeah! Five minutes after the second it landed! That’s a bomb, and it’s full of that gas from earlier!” a pale Brett yelled.
“We can’t just leave!” Douglas shot back, pointing to the secret service headquarters. “The offices are full of people! When that bomb goes off, the gas will get into the building! We need to evacuate them, now!” kiss!
Douglas was right. Based on what Brett had said, the entire building was at risk. However, with only 5 minutes, evacuating headquarters didn’t seem viable. There weren’t enough stairways or elevators to get so many people out of the building quickly enough. Worse, if they begin to panic, some of them may get trampled over and crushed.
“It’s about to fly into the city!” one of the trainees cried.
“But, the bomb…” Douglas croaked.
Brett withdrew a 9mm pistol and aimed it. The trainees were now yelling over one another.
“There is no time!”
Fountainhead soared across the sky at 22 feet per second. It was only about 30 feet away from the track’s edge.
“We can’t stop it!”
“Brett, shoot!” Douglas commanded!
“We still have time!”
Brett couldn’t line up a clear shot. His aim was over 10° off. Even if he could hit it, he had said himself that Fountainhead could not be shot down.
“We’re wasting time!”
“Is there some way to stop it?”
I watched the drone fly over the track fence. Brett didn’t seem like he was going to shoot at all. If he just aimed his gun about 6° to the right, he could easily hit the propellers. This would not send Fountainhead crashing down, but it would divert its course away from the city, instead slamming into the wall of the vacant Kattepote building. But if Fountainhead made it just 150 feet farther, it would be too far out of range to do anything. It finally made sense.
I was better than an agent with full training. This was like the marble aim test I did when I first woke up in this bionic body. I had gained the ability to instantly graph a to-scale model of the environment around me in my mind! That made it possible for me to target anything with superhuman precision.
Brett started to panic as he tried to fire at the drone. His hands were shaking. He couldn’t line up a clear shot. The drone was almost out of range. I heard a scream.
“Give it to me!” I demanded.
“What?” Brett couldn’t believe what I was saying.
“GIVE IT TO ME!”
“I- I-” Brett started to extend his hand towards mine but flinched away with uncertainty. He almost shivered as he moved toward me and recoiled, unable to make up his mind.
“Brett! Give it to her!” Douglas yelled.
Brett’s posture stiffened. Slanting his entire body towards me, he practically shoved the gun into my hand.
The drone had already gone over a hundred feet. That didn’t matter. I aimed for Fountainhead’s front right propellor, moving the gun 15° lower than Brett did, and 3.5° to the right.
The gun fired. I almost lost my balance as the muzzle sounded. Fountainhead tilted sideways, the bullet striking the front right propellor as I intended. My ears hurt so much I could hardly hear its whistling sound as it zipped across the sky to the left and behind me.
I definitely heard that.
Having calculated the maneuver in my mind, I already knew where to look.
“WHAT WAS THAT?”
Fountainhead had crashed near the top corner of the building’s side, flying in the opposite direction from before. The glass shattered on impact. Black smoke escaped the gaping hole. If I had shot just a second later, the drone would have flown beside the building rather than crashing, stabilizing its flight and launching its attack at a different point in the city.
“Did they get it?”
My heart was beating in my ears as I relaxed a bit and caught my breath. I thought I could hear even more screaming.
Douglas’ mouth hung open. He looked back and forth, from where Fountainhead had flown seconds ago to the crash site. It was as though he believed his vision had failed him.
“W-Wow. Jaklyn. You got it. H-How did you get it?”
“Don’t get too excited,” the supervisor said, getting up to stand on his own, “She got it, but she didn’t get it. That drone is still flying around inside the building.”
A sound echoed from the smoking hole in the armory.
It sounded like the siren Fountainhead had blared earlier, only weaker.
“Even if that was on purpose, you got really lucky. If you had aimed even a few inches off, it would have been jostled, sure, but aside from turbulence its flight wouldn’ta been disturbed at all.”
He was right, even though he didn’t know about my bionic body. The gun muzzle being just a few inches off when I fired would have translated to an dozens of feet in difference over a hundred feet away. In other words, I did get lucky. Even a strong gust could have sent the bullet in another direction.
Douglas pointed at the smoking building. “Hey, at least the drone is contained!” he exclaimed aggressively, moving to point at the bomb left by the drone. “We’ve got bigger problems to worry about!”
As the rising smoke from the building began to turn gray, I could faintly make out a red blinking light reflecting against it.
“Look!” a tense Brett let out after a long silence, “Fountainhead and its bomb may have seperated from one another when it dropped it, but they’re still connected.”
“What does that mean?” I asked after a few seconds of trying to figure it out myself.
“Brett, come on! Don’t…” Douglas began.
“Wait, no, hold on. You mean wirelessly, donchya?”
“Y-Yes,” said Brett, “The bomb explodes after five minutes, but only because Fountainhead automatically sends a signal to detonate the bomb after that time has passed.”
Brett may have been too nervous to explain his idea to us perfectly, but he knew what he was talking about.
“Are you saying that if we can disable the drone before the bomb detonates, it won’t go off at all?” I asked.
“Y-Yeah! Once we’re inside the building, we can get on a floor above it, fire into its opening, and destroy it!”
“Well we’ve got just under four minutes left,” said Douglas, “Come on! This is our only chance!”
“Hey! Where are they going?”
Fountainhead’s siren vibrated against the glass walls. The armory was a large, open room. Weapon racks lined the walls, holding a variety of firearms and other weapons. In the center of the room was a large table, covered with maps and various instruments.
I took the chance to reload Brett’s 9mm pistol.
“Jaklyn. Those… Those aren’t the right bullets,” said Brett.
I felt my face get warm. “Th-They’re not?”
“No. Did you learn to shoot from a video game? Use those hollow-points.” He pointed at them.
“O-Oh. Right,” I said, feeling foolish.
I quickly swapped out the magazine for one with the correct ammunition and pocketed a spare.
“Hurry up! We don’t have much time!” Douglas shouted from the other side of the room. It’s somewhere on one of the top floors, right?” Douglas asked in a hurry.
“You don’t know that,” said Brett with less of a quiver, “Who knows how far it’s gone since it got in here.”
The supervisor rushed to the weapon rack and grabbed a gun. “Ha ha! This’ll work!” It was a sniper rifle. “Won’t shoot it out of the sky, but it’ll push that drone to a more convenient spot, all right.”
Douglas walked beside him, grabbing a 9mm pistol.
The supervisor continued. “The drone’s outer shell is hard enough that it probably broke through a floor or two when it crashed, meaning it has access to two or three top floors. The only other way it could get to another floor from there is if it got into the stairwell. That’s on the opposite end from where it crashed, ain’t it?”
“If it flew into the stairwell, I doubt it would make it onto another floor, especially so quickly,” I said, “The drone seems to fly around randomly. If it were in the stairwell, we would be able to clearly hear it from here through the ground floor door.”
Douglas was sweating. “How the hell are we going to get to the top of the building in time? The bomb will have blown up before we get halfway up the stairs!”
“Well, I guess it’ll have to be the elevator,” Brett said,
Brett grabbed an assault rifle from the armory. Resting it on his shoulder, he walked to the elevator calmly.
“But, hold on…” Douglas began as Brett pressed the elevator button. It glew dark yellow.
The supervisor lowered his eyebrows. “I mean, it’s possible that it hit the elevator cables on impact, but…”
“…it’s not likely.” I finished. That didn’t make it any less nerve-racking to get on. This sort of duty was never something I signed up for. I felt pulled to walk out of the doors I had come through. I stared at those doors. I could hardly hear the other trainees out there, but…
“Where are you going?”
I could see some trainees climbing the fence at the end of the track, trying to jump over and escape. A few made it over, but many weren’t able to.
“Come on! Let’s get out of here!”
The elevator rang as its doors slid open. Brett walked in without a second thought.
“Well, y’all are coming? Right?” he asked.
He was going to go regardless of our answer. Alone, if he had to. He wasn’t mistaken about feeling responsible, but going alone could be suicidal! Then again, so was going along.
There was no question Brett needed help. If anyone could actually stop Fountainhead, it was me. I wasn’t going to stand around and wait to see people get killed. Before I knew it, I was stepping onto the elevator.
We made eye contact as I stopped beside him. I hadn’t seen much of his face up close before. His red cheeks grew dimples as he smiled at me. It wasn’t sincere, but I smiled back.
Douglas sighed deeply. “What am I doing?” he asked himself as he joined us.
The supervisor hurried after, getting inside just as the doors were closing.
The elevator hummed lightly as we rose through the floors. It moved faster than any elevator I had been on before.
“The name is Hawthorne, by the way,” Brett said, looking down at me, “General Brett Hawthorne. A-And you are?”
I hesitated momentarily, worrying I would accidentally say the wrong name. I couldn’t believe that was my concern at a time like this.
“Jaklyn Lionheart,” I said coldly, “it’s a pleasure.”
“It will be once we’re out of here. T-This back here is Douglas.” A smile grew on Brett as he pointed behind himself.
“She already met me,” Douglas chimed in.
“Yeah! Everybody already knows Douglas!” The supervisor grinned, putting his free hand around Douglas. Despite his best efforts, Douglas’ lips parted into a smile.
“And, uh, you! I, um, don’t know your name!” Brett said, turning to the supervisor.
“Ender Nork. Try not to forget it this time, like you always do.”
“Oh. Sorry,” Brett’s voice raised in pitch, “Have you told me your name before? You’ll have to forgi-“
“Relax, relax, I’m messing with you! It’s nice to meet you, Brett!”
I felt a gram of relief as a small laugh escaped my nose. Brett’s face flushed.
“Alright, time to focus!” said Brett, “When we get off, we’ll have about three minutes left to stop this thing. Let’s make it count!”
Nork seemed relieved. “Great, I’m looking forward to finally…”
“Did any of you feel that?” Douglas looked around.
“Feel what?” asked Nork.
I saw the elevator doors begin to jostle. I tried to keep my breathing even and calm. The gold doors were slightly vibrating. I saw the ceiling light’s reflection on the doors shake.
“Yep, it’s up there, alright,” said Nork.
“Good,” said Douglas, “I-I thought we might be heading to the wrong place.”
The vibration grew stronger. We were getting close.
“What’s our game plan when we get up there?” Nork asked.
“You, stay close to me.” said Brett, “Doug, you and Jaklyn follow behind me and cover my back.”
“Jaklyn,” said Nork, “I would feel better if you stayed close to me. You’ve got the best aim!”
“That makes sense,” said Douglas, “I’ll stay near Brett. That way, we’ll have two groups with one light weapon and one heavy weapon each.”
I let out a shaky sigh. “Got it.” I could feel my knees shaking.
I could feel the elevator shaking hard. It felt like it would fall down the shaft any minute. We all took a step back from the furious doors. I felt it in my feet and in my chest. The sound of the elevator echoed in my ears.
The elevator stopped.
We stopped on the eighth floor. The wind burst inside as soon as the doors slid open. The sun shone inside, casting a bright light on Brett and me. I could see the red in his cheeks again. It spread to his forehead.
“It smells like smoke,” I said, holding back a sneeze. The wind was so strong that it slowed me down. By this point, most of the smoke had escaped outside.
The drone had crashed between the eighth and ninth floors, breaking part of the ceiling above us in the process. There was a second hole a few feet closer, about five feet across in the floor. Fountainhead must have fallen to the seventh floor when it crashed.
“How does a drone like Fountainhead just up and vanish?” Nork gritted his teeth.
We all stepped out of the elevator and into the open space. The eighth floor resembled a chemical lab. It was easy to tell this floor was meant to clean and repair firearms. It was full of bottled chemicals, tools, and cleaning supplies, many of which were spilled and strewn about the ground. The table in the center of the room was stained with chemicals and gun oil, and next to it was a shelf full of cleaning supplies. Several cabinets had come loose, hanging onto the wall by only a few skrews and spilling their contents onto the floor.
“It looks like Fountainhead took the exhaust fan with it when it crashed,” said Brett.
I slowly stepped closer to the hole, trying to peer inside, my gun at the ready.
I heard a noise escape the hole. The others turned to look as well. I knew I didn’t imagine it.
“Hey, that sounded like the busted siren,” Douglas said.
“There’s no mistaking it, Doug,” Nork said, “That was Fountainhead.”
I crouched beside the hole, looking down into it. It was completely dark.
“Whaddaya see, Jak?” Nork asked.
“Nothing! I…” Sliding the pistol into my back pocket, I grabbed the floor by the edge, leaning over the hole to look closer. “It’s pitch black!”
“I’ll go grab a flashlight!” Brett called, making a beeline for the desk across the room.
I leaned in closer, gripping the floor hard as I squinted.
“Hey! I think I hear something!” I yelled. I felt a bit of relief wash over me. If Fountainhead was on the floor below, eliminating it from where I stood would take only a moment.
I lowered my ear into the hole, searching for the noise source.
“Jaklyn, what’s happening to…” Douglas began in a worried tone.
As the sound’s direction became clear, I began to feel a burning sensation in the palm of my right hand.
The sound was coming from me!
“Shit! Shit!” Nork yelled.
I raised my hand and inspected it. The burning became more intense by the second. I could feel the skin dissolving, making my heart beat faster. I couldn’t contain my screaming as I fell backward onto the floor.
“It’s Fountainhead’s poison! Nobody move!” Brett exclaimed, “Normally, the wind carries the gas away, but since we’re indoors, it became a liquid and settled on the walls and floor!”
“Oh, shit! Jaklyn! Hang in there!” Douglas called.
I could see the cables and wires inside of my hand. The sound of the wind whipped around me. It felt like the whole world was spinning. I shook my head. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”
“We need to do somethin’!” Nork said, starting towards me.
“Hold it!” Brett yelled, “We can’t see where the poison is! It lost its color when it liquified! One wrong move, and it’ll get us too!”
Nork stopped reluctantly. “What are we supposed to do, huh?”
“Yeah!” Douglas said, “We’ve got two minutes and change to take out the drone. We can’t just stand here!”
“I don’t know, but we won’t be able to do that if we’re in her condition!” Brett said, “There’s gotta be a way out of here.”
“It’s not letting up! Let’s pour some water on her hand! That’s her shooting hand.” shouted Nork.
“No!” Brett yelled back, “That poison is oxalyl chloride! If it touches water, it’ll release gas and kill both of you!”
“Wait! Did you say oxalyl chloride?” Douglas called.
“What about it?” Brett called back.
Douglas started to grin as he looked around the room. It looked like he might have lost his mind.
“Doug! Talk to us!” Nork shouted.
“Well, this will probably create poison gas like you said, but we’ll be able to see where the poison is. As soon as we do, let’s get the hell out of here and find Fountainhead.”
“What’s your plan, Doug?” Brett asked.
“Look around! See those ‘all-purpose stripper’ and hydrogen peroxide containers lying all over the floor. Do you know what happens when those things mix with oxalyl chloride?”
“It glows! Right?” Nork lept with joy.
I could feel the burning subsiding. Any second now, I’d have to be on my feet.
“But how will you make them react with the acid?” Brett asked.
Douglas turned off his gun’s safety. “Ready?”
“DO IT!” I yelled, covering my ears.
A container of all purpose cleaner burst, the pressurized contents bursting out.
The hydrogen peroxide followed suit.
“Tilt your head up! This gas is going to sink to the floor!” Brett yelled.
I did as he said. My eyes started watering as the acid mixed with the other chemicals.
The acid began to glow bright red!
“Douglas! You’re a genius!” Nork shouted.
The floor beneath me started to glow. I quickly moved away, kicking the glowing poison off of my shoes. Meanwhile, the flashlight Brett was about to pick up also developed a glow. Seeing this, his face appeared to turn pale, even amidst the red light.
By the end, the glow painted almost half the room’s walls, floor, and ceiling.
Some of the poison inside the pitch black hole began to glow. I could see Fountainhead at the bottom. It broke halfway through the next floor before getting stuck, standing on its side. Its propellers were still twirling, wiggling it slightly.
“I see it! I see it!” I yelled.
They all shouted over one another.
“It’s stuck in the floor!” I shouted. “Let’s destroy it!”
The three rushed over to me, taking care to avoid the glowing red spots on the ground.
I quickly reached into my back pocket for the pistol. Douglas had already started shooting. The rest of us joined within seconds. Bullets ricocheted off of Fountainhead’s metal body. They created sparks, which made Fountainhead even easier to see.
“Shit, the opening is facing away from us!” I shouted as soon as I noticed.
“SHE SAID THE OPENING IS FACING AWAY FROM…”
Fountainhead started to wobble significantly. Finally, one of the bullets caused it to wobble too much. It came loose from the floor and shot up out of the hole in an instant.
We all stepped back, watching as it lifted itself from between the floors.
“Son of a bitch!” Brett shouted.
It hovered in above of us for a moment before flying backward and breaking through the window.
“Guys! It’s flying over the city sidewalk!” Douglas shouted.
“Shit. We’ve got less than two minutes left!” I informed them.
“Let’s take it out, then!” Nork pointed his rifle forward, concentrating through the scope.
“We can’t from here,” said Brett with a cough, “It’s flying parallel to us. We don’t have an opening if we’re not above it!”
Nork began coughing as well. I could feel something scratching the inside of my throat.
The red glow around us began to fade.
“We can’t stay in here much longer!” said Douglas, “Let’s get to the elevator!”
We ran like hell to the doors.
“Come on! Come on!” said Brett as he pressed the elevator button repeatedly.
Douglas began having a coughing fit.
I turned to look at Fountainhead through my watery eyes. Slowly but surely, it was ascending.
We piled into the elevator immediately, almost tripping over one another. I pushed the ‘door close’ button over and over as we all began coughing violently.
“Douglas…” I began, “Douglas, I-I need you to get to the ground floor, and get everyone off that street!” I hit the ‘9’ button.
“I’ll go with you,” said an exhausted Brett.
“No,” said Nork, “Let me. If any rifle can take down Fountainhead from up here, it’s yours! I’ll provide whatever ground support you need.”
The doors slid open.
“This is it then,” I said, feeling like I might fall over.
Brett walked out without a second thought. Knowing we didn’t have time to waste, I pushed through my fear and followed.
I quickly looked back as I stepped through the doors. Douglas smiled, sending me a salute using his pistol as the doors shut.
“You’re kidding!” Brett shouted, “It flew up?”
Once again, Fountainhead was parallel to the windows.
“It’s only five feet away from the window,” I said.
“Yeah, maybe approxi…”
“Okay, so what about it?”
With two shots, I shattered the glass.
“I’m going to jump onto it,” I said.
“J-Jump? Are you serious.”
“Yes. Once I do that, my weight will bring the drone to the ground, right?”
“Yes, but… Jaklyn, are you…”
Brett took a deep breath. We both knew we were out of options.
“Alright then.” Brett walked to the left side of the room, getting well out of my path.
With a running start, I jumped towards the drone, my arms stretched out in front of me. My fingertips grazed the bottom of the drone, but that was it. I quickly realized that my plan had failed miserably. My fingers slipped off of Fountainhead, and I started to fall.
For a split second, I thought Brett would catch me, but that was impossible. He was too far away. I felt like my heart was about to jump out of my mouth. I was a hundred feet from the ground.
I flipped over several times, watching Fountainhead grow smaller with each roll. I was eighty feet from the groundThe delivery drones buzzed all around me, growing louder the lower I got. Wait a minute.
Another roll and I saw it. Flying 11 feet higher than Fountainhead was a package delivery drone. I didn’t even need to think for the calculations to start rolling in. Was this luck, or ingenious use of my new skill? It didn’t matter. I had seconds left to do this. Rolling over again, I felt nauseous. I was forty feet from the ground
I held my breath and didn’t wait another moment.
The bullet bounced off of the drone and flew back towards Fountainhead.
With a loud bang, the bullets exited through the side of Fountainhead and left two holes in it’s side, ripping through the metal panels.
The delivery drone exploded, it’s parts beginning to fall. I was only fourteen feet from the ground.
I hit the side of the road with a thud, sliding face-first through the hill of trash that lined the sidewalk. My left leg snapped underneath me on impact. The pain was unbearable. I screamed, but no one could hear me over the sound of Fountainhead.
Fountainhead’s siren was a shadow of its former self, replaced mostly with a weak yet loud buzz. Somehow, though, it still flew.
“There’s a hole in the side of it! We can take it down from the ground now!” Douglas yelled, “I can’t hit it with my pistol. One shot from your sniper and Fountainhead is done!”
“I’m on it!” Nork shot back.
Moments later, I heard footsteps approaching quickly.
“Jaklyn!” Douglas sprinted to me. “Jaklyn! No!” He came to a halt beside me, kneeling. “Oh, no. Jaklyn, can you hear me?”
Suddenly, it felt like I snapped back from the brink of unconsciousness. My eyes opened widely.
Douglas let out a relieved moan as his eyes watered.
“Oh, thank God. Stay with me, okay? The ambulance is on its way.”
“W-What about,” I began weakly.
“Don’t worry about that, you’ll be okay!”
“We… Only… 43 seconds…”
“Hey! Where’s that sniper?” Douglas shouted to Nork.
“Shit! It’s jammed! It’s fucking jammed!” Nork’s yells echoed down the street over the blaring cars, who were stuck in a traffic jam in their attempts to flee.
“Fuck.” Douglas slammed his fist against the pavement before standing up. He knew he didn’t have a chance of making it, but he pointed his pistol at Fountainhead regardless. I knew just as well. The angle at which he held the gun was completely off.
I lifted my arm, sending aches slicing across my back.
Douglas took many deep breaths, getting ready to shoot.
My hand slowly moved higher, casting a shadow on my face.
Sweat poured from Douglas’ forehead. He closed one eye, adjusting his aim again.
I took hold of his hand.
“My finger… is too weak to pull the trigger. But…”
“Jaklyn…” was all he said. He felt my torn and dissolved palm rub against the back of his hand.
Fountainhead began to release its gas again, now escaping from the top and the new bullet holes.
Fighting through the pain, I carefully adjusted the direction of the pistol by 6°. The shot was lined up.
I couldn’t explain what emotion I felt, but pleasant tingles ran all over my face. The bullet entered the rightmost hole perfectly.
The siren was unrecognizable. Fountainhead began to tilt on its side in midair.
I didn’t see it, but when I heard the sound I knew Fountainhead had exploded like a firework.
“J-Jaklyn!” he screamed, “”You did it! W-We did it!”
“Y-Yeah,” I said in a groan as my eyes shut on their own, “Y-Yeah, w-we did.”
— End of Fountainhead —