This is the second to last installment in this story. I’m sorry to see it end, but I have so many ideas for new short stories and serials that I can’t wait to get started on something fresh.
There will be one more concluding chapter next week. After that, I will be looking at this serial and adding a great deal of detail to it as I turn it into a full-fledged novel. I think there is a lot more to be told in this story, but I will save that for the book.
If you want to catch up on the other parts of the story, you can do so by clicking the SERIALS link.
Now, please enjoy the penultimate chapter of No Pain, No Gain.
Gini studied the schematics for the portable MRI unit. She had to adjust some of the electrical pathways to enable it to be connected to a much stronger power source that would allow the magnetic field to be strong enough to pass into the containment cell in the sub-basement.
“I think we’re only going to get one shot at this,” she said.
“Why is that?” Haybrook asked.
“We’re going to be pushing the circuits to their limit and we’ll likely damage them in the time it will take to pass the strong magnetic field into the room. They can’t sustain that higher power long enough without some level of degradation.”
“We’ll have to hope that once is enough. Do you really think this portable unit will be able to take on the additional power from that source down there?”
Gini wrinkled her brow as she contemplated this.
“I think so. With a few more modifications I can regulate the power to stop it from immediately frying the unit. We will need a bit of luck on our side, however.”
“Luck is not a usual ingredient in science, but I agree,” Haybrook said.
Gini worked in silence while Haybrook ran some calculations. He estimated that there were 15 ‘subjects’ in the containment room. Most of them had likely transformed completely. It would be interesting to see if they could be transformed from their advanced state back to some degree of humanity. His fear was that the nanotech had taken over so many vital functions in their bodies that killing the tech might kill the subject as well.
After about an hour of running simulations, Gini brought Haybrook out of his deep concentration.
“I think we’re ready,” She said. “I’ve rewired the MRI unit and I added some additional circuitry to help regulate the flow of the much higher power.”
“How much higher will it be?” Haybrook asked.
“It will be about ten times what this unit was designed for. Luckily, the engineers that designed the electrical circuitry planned for power surges to near that level. I’ve leveraged that design throughout the unit, but, as I said, we likely have only one shot at this.”
“That will have to be good enough,” Haybrook said.
As he said this, he thought of the implications of their plan if it actually worked. What would happen to them? Would those customers affected have the treatment made available to them? Would Blaylock suddenly change his tune and make he and Gini disappear? He thought this last possibility was the most troubling and the most likely.
“I think we’re ready to move the unit to the sub-basement and give it a try,” Gini said.
Normally Haybrook would want to conduct more tests, but he felt that time was crucial. It was now or never. He helped Gini wheel the unit toward the door and into the corridor. As if by magic, but not unexpectedly, Schmidt and two burly ‘gentlemen’ in matching suits were waiting by the freight elevator.
“We’re here to help you move the unit and to get it connected,” Schmidt said with a smile that could chill the toughest person.
“Um, thanks,” Haybrook said. “We really could manage on our own.”
“Nonsense. Mr. Blaylock instructed us to help you with whatever you need. It will be much easier for us to do this for you. You and your assistant can conserve your strength for the task that lies ahead.”
Haybrook and Gini followed the muscle-bound trio as they moved the unit down the corridor, into the freight elevator, and out into the maze of the sub-basement.
Eventually, they came to a mechanical room that had a large doorway with double metal doors. The room was obviously designed to be able to take in large pieces of equipment. This was fortunate as they would need to get the bulky MRI unit as close to the power source as possible. They could not run long cables to make their connection as the wiring would likely melt with the amount of power that would be flowing through them. They needed to be about a foot away with large-gage cabling connecting the MRI unit to the terminals on the power source.
Schmidt and his lackeys wheeled the unit into place and Gini got to work connecting it to the power source. After about 20 minutes of connecting, checking and re-checking she finally stepped away from the unit.
“I think we’re ready,” She said.
“How are we going to do this?” Schmidt asked. “Do you just flip a switch?”
“I put it on a delayed start,” Gini said. “Once I kick off the process, we have 30 seconds to move away in case something goes wrong.”
“What are the chances of something going wrong?” Schmidt asked.
“Well, we only ran simulations in the lab,” Haybrook said. “We couldn’t test with the actual unit because we didn’t have it near the power source and, as Gini informed me, we are only going to have one shot at this.”
“That’s not too reassuring, Doctor,” Schmidt said.
“We are at the point where ‘good enough’ will have to do,” Haybrook said.
“I’m going to start the process,” Gini said. “I suggest we prepare to move outside the doors and down the corridor a safe distance.”
“How will we know if it worked,” Schmidt asked.
Gini looked at Haybrook and he nodded his head.
“I’ve interfaced my tablet computer with the surveillance cameras in the containment cell. We can observe what is happening as the magnetic field ramps up.”
“So, you hacked into the security system?” Schmidt said with a bit of anger in his voice.
“Desperate times, Mr. Schmidt,” Haybrook said. “I don’t think that is the most important thing to consider at this point.”
Schmidt contemplated this.
“You’re right, Doctor. This important task calls for bending the rules a bit,” he said with an unconvincing tone.
Gini keyed in a command and hit the Enter key. The group backed out of the mechanical room doorway in a synchronized movement and proceeded about 50 feet down the corridor to what was deemed as a safe distance. When they arrived there, Blaylock was waiting.
“So, this is it,” Blaylock said. “We’ll know soon if your process works?” he said looking a Haybrook.
“Yes Sir. It all depends on how the subjects in the containment cell react to this level of magnetic field and if the process is reversible from the advanced stage that they are in.”
Gini held up her tablet device. The screen showed the containment cell with a greenish-grey hue from the infrared cameras. It also showed a timer in the corner which she had set to coincide with the one on the unit. It was now passing 18 seconds on the way down to zero from the 30 second delayed start. It would then count down from two minutes which was the time she had allotted for the magnetic field to be generated. She estimated that this was the maximum the MRI unit would tolerate before its circuits melted into silicon pulp.
As the countdown progressed downward from ten, they could hear a low-frequency electrical hum emanating from the mechanical room. It grew in volume and intensity. Finally, at zero, the infrared cameras adjusted to a bright light source in the cell. For a moment, they couldn’t make out anything, but then they saw the outline of several bodies writhing and convulsing on the floor. This continued for the next two minutes. As the counter again approached zero, they could feel the hum becoming less intense. Simultaneously, the writhing and convulsing subsided and when the counter reached zero, it stopped completely.
Joyce had given in to the collective. She had now lost the remnants of the clothes she was wearing and was entwined with the other members of the group. Her last conscious human thoughts were fading quickly. As she resigned herself to this and began to relax, something happened in the cell. She felt a pulse going through her body. It was not painful, but it was unsettling. She could feel herself being controlled by it. Her body began to shake uncontrollably and she could feel something passing through her from the metallic floor in the chamber. As she looked around, she could see the same thing happening to the others. The intensity of the feeling increased until she finally lost consciousness. Her last thoughts were a sense of loss.
“Are they dead,” Blaylock asked.
“I’m not sure,” Haybrook said. “Let’s wait and see if there is any movement. It might be risky to go into the chamber if they are alive and the treatment didn’t work.”
They waited about four additional minutes and there were no signs of life. Gini zoomed in on some of the individuals looking for rising and falling movement in their chests, but could not get a sharp enough resolution on the tablet to confirm this.
“I’m sure Mr. Schmidt and his associates would not mind going in to check on the subjects,” Blaylock said.
“Um, sure, yes, we’d be glad to,” Schmidt said reluctantly. He had seen the aftermath of the attack on the security guard from just one of these creatures, but he didn’t want to refuse an order from Blaylock as his position with the boss was already precarious.
Schmidt and his minions walked down the corridor toward the containment chamber. The electronic keypad outside the door did not work as it had been overloaded by the magnetic field. Schmidt pulled a key from his pocket and used it to manually release the door.
He let his men enter the chamber ahead of him. One of them turned on the low-level lighting. The thing that struck Schmidt as he entered the opening was the stench. It was like a giant reptile cage with the smell of waste and other animalistic odors assaulting his olfactory sense.
He noted the numerous motionless bodies in the center of the chamber. They were naked and intertwined with each other. It appeared that the reptilian skin that had covered them was sloughing off to some extent. He didn’t detect any movement and reluctantly, the trio moved closer to the pile of beings to assess their condition.
Schmidt approached one of them, what appeared to be a female, and gently nudged its ribs with one of his wingtip dress shoes. There was no response. As he was about to move to another body, he suddenly felt something grip his ankle. The body he had kicked was alive and had grabbed him.